thechapbookreview

November 2009

About two months ago, I invited a number of chapbook publishers to participate in a roundtable discussion for The Chapbook Review. I asked them to define the term “chapbook,” to talk about some favorite chapbooks that they haven’t published, to share when they first thought about publishing chapbooks. I also asked them to share who/what were some of their inspirations, how they defined their role as publisher/editor, and how they defined their press’s aesthetic and mission. I asked them to detail some other things writers should consider before submitting to them, to share some things that caught their eye when they picked up a manuscript, and their thoughts about the technical aspects of printmaking and publishing. I was also interested to hear them talk about commerce, marketing, and publicity. Many of the editors and publishers here also write fiction, poetry, and/or nonfiction of their own, so I was curious about how this influenced and informed, if at all, their approach/aesthetic/mission. I asked them to share the ways their press has grown, what some of their goals were, who they published and why, who would they love to publish and why, who they’ll be publishing next, and what else was on the horizon for their press. You’ll find Bannock Street Books’s Sarah Black, TinFish Press’s Susan Webster Schultz, Yazoo River Press’s J.Q. Zheng, Small Fires Press’s Friedrich Kerksieck, Publishing Genius Press’s Adam Robinson, Musclehead Press’s John Berbrich, Dancing Girl Press’s Kristy Bowen, Rose Metal Press Abigail Beckel and Kathleen Rooney, Toad Press’s Genevieve Kaplan, Blood Pudding Press’s Juliet Cook, and Mud Luscious Press’s J.A. Tyler all weighing in.

And don’t forget the reviews. Molly Gaudry’s Parts (an excerpt from her forthcoming lush and lyrical novella, We Take Me Apart) is ably reviewed by Ryan W. Bradley. And Molly Gaudry herself offers an impassioned examination of Claudia Smith’s Put Your Head in My Lap. Smith’s book is easily one of the top chapbooks this year. And Sean Lovelace (hisHow Some People Like Their Eggs is one of this year’s champs as well) goes all Hotel, Motel, Holiday Inn upside your head. Alec Niedenthal gives us a glimpse of a subject searching for an object (or is it, objects searching for subjectivity?) in Ben Estes’s Lamp like l’map. Craig Santos Perez explores how things are lost and found in translation in Jacinta Galea’i’s Aching for Mango Friends. And J.A. Tyler tirelessly unties the threads of mortality in Andrew Taylor’s And the Weary Are at Rest.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Chapbook Publishers Roundtable 2009

 

John Madera: How do you define “chapbook?”

Bannock Street Books: Uh, oh! Stuck on the first question! I don’t think I’ve ever tried to define chaps before. Okay, 40 pages or less. Soft cover. Kick-ass attitude.

TinFish Press: A small book or booklet that is held together by staples, thread, screws, or other material.

Yazoo River Press: Chapbook is a way to publish good poets who have been ignored or who have barely had a chance to get their poetry collections published by the main stream publishers. Of course, it’s inexpensive too.

Small Fires Press: Usually when someone asks me this question I just say, it’s a smaller book, about the size of a chapter in a book outside of the book, but I think this answer kind of sucks.

I think the term can be used to describe any number of forms that are called chapbooks by publishers, from simple 12-32 pages bound in a single folded signature and either stapled, or sewn, to any number of accordion/dos-a-dos/pull-apart/flip/etc. structures. Any way you stretch a book in a way that isn’t what people are used to seeing as a book (i.e. typical mass market/trade paper-perfect bound/hardback with dust jacket) seem to fit into the category of chapbook, and in many cases chapbooks and artist’s books seem to find at least some sort of interchangeability. The more time spent trying to answer this question seems to prompt me to spend even more time answering it so I’m going to let it go at that for now.

Publishing Genius Press: A chapbook, for Publishing Genius, is a self-contained short piece or collection of pieces. Traditionally it’s a form for 8-48 pages of poetry, but for the electronic format we use, it’s a definition that can be bent and stretched to include one atypical story or several microfictions as well as poetry.  

Musclehead Press: Good question. I tend to think of any glued book with a flat spine as a paperback. Anything that’s saddle-stapled or with any type of string binding, I call a chapbook. A chapbook is generally a collection of writings by a single author, although some include the work of several authors.

Dancing Girl Press: I always say it’s anything longer than one page (which would be a broadside ) but not yet 48 pages, which I guess would constitute a full-length book by industry standards. I think other things can vary—saddle stitched or stapled vs. perfect bound, paper vs. electronic, price, etc. We’ve done a few book art oriented things I would call chapbooks that are actually loose leaves of pages.

Rose Metal Press: For the purposes of the Annual Short Short Chapbook Contest that Rose Metal Press runs from October 15th through December 1st every year, we define it as 25-40 pages. But one of the reasons we find the chapbook form so appealing in a general sense is because, as Wikipedia says, “No exact definition can be applied.”  

Toad Press: A little book. Not too precious. We’re drawn to the convenience and self-sufficiency of the chapbook and don’t want to hide that the means of production are available to pretty much everyone. Our chapbooks reflect the accessibility of the medium: folded 8 ½ x 11 paper, saddle-stapled, with cardstock covers.  

Blood Pudding Press: A collection of creative material that is shorter than a full-length book—anywhere from about 10 pages to about 45 pages or thereabouts.  Personally, I like chapbooks to be creatively designed with some special flourishes and/or loving attention to detail. I like the chapbooks that I make to involve provocative poetry and ribbon bindery.

Mud Luscious Press: For me, chapbook means short and hand-bound (staples, string, tape, etc.). Recently there are many more publishers/presses who call 80-100 page perfect-bound manuscripts chapbooks, but I think really those are novellas / novelettes. Hand-bound is key, no matter the method of it.

John Madera: Talk about some favorite chapbooks that you’ve read over the years that you haven’t published?

Bannock Street Books: My favorite was a poetry chap called A Lover’s Eye by my writing teacher Michael Glaser. It was really cool to know the writer when I read his poems. Intimate and lovely.

TinFish Press: I like entire series of chapbooks, starting from the Buffalo Leave Books series from the 1990s, then Jonathan Brannen’s series of that era, Meow Press, Slack Buddha Press (these days). Many of the Publish or Perish chaps by members of the Subpo list were wonderful, as are current Dusie Collective books. I especially like chaps that contain a single work, long poem or mixed genre piece.

Small Fires Press: Some of the first chapbooks I ever got a hold of are still my favorites: Nick Moudry’s A Poem, A Movie, and A Poem was one of the first I still keep going back to. Nick sent it to me to read after the Braincase Press books were sold out. The cover had been screen-printed backwards and so it looked and felt especially handmade—the surreal, O’Hara referencing work was super funny, tender, and excellent. There are a number of chapbooks that have come out through Ugly Duckling Presse that I really love—the poems and format of Yuko Otomo’s Small Poems in particular, although all of their books are especially wonderful. And oh man that metal cover on DEAFENING LEAFENING by Matt Hart and Ethan Paquin through Pilot Books really blows me away. And The Flea Market in Kiel by Lewis Warsh out through Patrick Masterson’s The Rest Press impresses me with its simple formatting choices, letter-pressed pages, affordable price (if you can find it), and superior writing. I’m at work right now and away from my collection right now, which is good because it will keep this list at four chapbooks instead of four hundred.

Publishing Genius Press: I was reading Sean Lovelace’s recent How Some People Like Their Eggs from Rose Metal Press this morning and it became an instant favorite. The construction of the book really brings the form to its apex. The size, the quality of cover stock and cover art, the professional printing and hand construction actually contain some kind of electric power, I think. You hold that book and suddenly understand what a chapbook is. You read it and you know—these pieces are made for this form. Would Lovelace’s flash fiction work in a 400-page paperback with pulpy stock? Sure, why not, but given the way a nicely made chapbook like this captures your attention, focuses your attention, I think it’s achieved some publishing entelechy.

I came upon the format accidentally, when I was maybe 12. I was a big fan of this Christian rock band, Rez (short for The Resurrection Band), and found out that their lead dude, Glenn Kaiser, had written a book of poems. I sent away for it and when it arrived I immediately felt cool to have this handsome, white-on-white, staple-stitched book that no one else in school had ever seen.

Dancing Girl Press: I’m a huge fan of the New Michigan Press chapbooks and my favorites have been their titles by Arielle Greenberg, Simone Muench, Jason Bredle, Rachel Moritz, and Karyna McGlynn. I have loved every title that CakeTrain has put out, and visually drool over the books put out by Effing Press, Ugly Duckling, and Hot Whiskey.

Rose Metal Press: There are so many, but the first three that spring to mind are The Partial Autobiography of Jane Doe by Daniela Olszewska from dancing girl press in Chicago, Victor in the New World by Chad Reynolds from Rope-a-Dope Press in Boston, and No Theater by Chris Tonelli from Brave Men Press, also in Boston. Although we haven’t read it yet, we’re super-excited about Put Your Head in My Lap by Claudia Smith (we published her first chapbook and are (clearly) huge fans of her writing), hot off the presses from Future Tense Books in Portland. 

Blood Pudding Press: So many and yet I wish I could afford to acquire so many more (although one delightful perk of being an editor/publisher of my own small press is that I can trade Blood Pudding Press chapbooks for other chapbooks). It’s nearly impossible to narrow it down, but I’ll name ten chapbooks I really enjoyed that have been published within the last three years or so—The Partial Autobiography of Jane Doe, by Daniela Olszewska, Orange Girl, by Simone Muench, Recovering the Body, by Nicole Cartwright Denison, and Brute Fact, by Melissa Severin, all published by Dancing Girl Press (and there are lots of other chapbooks I’ve really enjoyed from that press, too), Feign, by Kristy Bowen published by New Michigan Press, Alabama Steve, by Karyna McGlynn published by Destructible Heart Press, Traceland, by Mark Lamoureux published by Transmission Press, Wilted Things, by Kristen Orser and At night, by Lisa Ciccarello, both published by Scantily Clad Press, and Ode to Industry, by Michelle Detorie published through the Dusie Kollektiv 3.

Mud Luscious Press: I loved Peter Markus’s The Moon is a Lighthouse from New Michigan Press. I loved Mathias Svalina’sPlay from the Cupboard Pamphlet Series. I loved I Will Unfold You with My Hairy Hands from Greying Ghost. Many, many others I am sure, but these in particular spring to mind.

John Madera: How/when did you first conceive the idea to start publishing chapbooks?

Bannock Street Books: I’ve been mulling this over for several years now—the ideas of mixing art and flash fiction, the idea of doing it myself, and adding some elements of book arts, and the idea of letting writers participate in making books and putting their words into people’s hands.

TinFish Press: It was probably the Leave Books series that inspired me first, so Tinfish started publishing chaps soon after the journal was launched in 1995.

Yazoo River Press: A few years ago I wanted to have a small collection of haiku published by a haiku press, but gave up the idea because of the cost. Since I am the editor of a bi-annual of literary criticism and I have a good relationship with the printer, I decided to establish our own press to publish haiku collection. I self-published three haiku chapbooks which were reviewed by Modern Haiku.

Small Fires Press: I guess I first conceived that it was possible for me to do it when my friend Aaron James McNally first published his own chapbook, and then started his chapbook press Indivia and put out chapbooks by BJ Love and myself. I knew it was possible, but I didn’t really think I had the editorial or designing skills to do it myself. I was just starting to write at that point, and had started interning for the North American Review, which gave me another model a magazine/press could use to operate. Finally, it was Walter Hamady, of Perishable Press, who was giving a talk at an art gallery who told me to “just get started” when I asked him how I should begin.

Publishing Genius Press: First, back in forever ago, I wanted to publish “regular” books. The kind with all the glue and pages. I spent a lot of time figuring out how to do that. Then an artist/poet I admire did a simple, staple-stitch chapbook with Bronze Skull Press and it kind of blew me away all over again. I was just recommitting myself to poetry at the time, and it dawned on me how perfect short volumes are for poetry, and how integral the handmade production can be. To know it’s been touched, handled, cared for in the production seems close in sensibility to poetry. So, motivated by the Bronze Skull book, I decided I would start my publishing hobby by doing a similar thing, and I made El Greed, a book of David NeSmith’s drawings that are like poems.

Musclehead Press: We started our magazine, Barbaric Yawp, in early 1997. We hadn’t considered publishing chapbooks until a writer sent a 50-page manuscript with no explanation. My wife and I read it. We looked at each other and said, “This is great; let’s make a chapbook.” So we did. Once we published it, The Notch of the Sorceress, by Mark Spitzer, and advertised it, other writers started sending queries for their own chaps.  We’ve published 43 so far.

Dancing Girl Press: I had been running wicked alice, an online poetry journal, for about three years when I thought I might like to offer some sort of a print aspect to the endeavor. Since the journal always tended toward shorter samples of a poet’s work, I thought something lengthier and a bit less ephemeral might be interesting.

Rose Metal Press: With the notable exception of the aforementioned Future Tense, we noticed that while there were an abundance of poetry chapbooks being published by all kinds of fantastic indie presses, this was not so much the case with short fiction, especially flash. It occurred to us that the chapbook format—with its deliberate brevity and limited print runs—was a perfect delivery device for the flash form, which also concentrates on a carefully crafted smallness.   

We’ve been around for almost four years now, and in that time, we’ve published three chapbooks—The Sky Is a Well by Claudia Smith, In the Land of the Free by Geoffrey Forsyth, and How Some People Like Their Eggs by Sean Lovelace—and have been very happy with the results, and impressed with the way authors are able to make collections of flash that are just as coherent and unified as a good collection of poetry or full-length short stories.

Toad Press: In 2002 or 2003, when I was finishing up my MFA program and worried about all that might mean, I wanted to be sure I could still participate n the literary community. I felt like the work I was reading in translation was particularly interesting and saw fewer venues for such work, so we decided to carve out our niche there. Since we had no money but a background in book arts and letterpress printing, it wasn’t too much of a leap to think of chapbooks as the form we would produce.

Blood Pudding Press: I had been lovingly reading chapbooks for years, but didn’t necessarily feel as if I had the expertise or resources to publish them myself. In October 2006, I was gripped by a little writing frenzy during which I revisited a series of old poems I had written in college, based on the Laura Palmer character from David Lynch’s Twin Peaks. I had held onto the poems due to my almost obsessive adoration of the show; not because I thought the poems themselves were worth preserving. I think I was purging old material from my repertoire and was going to give those one more read before pitching them, just in case a few little details could be culled for use elsewhere.  Instead, I ended up being overtaken by an unexpected creative fervor and rewriting the whole series in a matter of mere days and then still in the throes of my excitement, I wanted to publish them right away. They definitely seemed like a series, not pieces to be submitted individually, but I knew if I started sending them out as a chapbook manuscript, it would probably be a while before they were picked up, especially being so niche-like, so I decided to do it myself and I figured out how. Since I was pleased with the results, I then expanded into publishing others. Since then, I’ve published more than ten chapbooks.

Mud Luscious Press: Ken Baumann blogged about having a long poem that he didn’t know what to do with. I emailed and asked to read it. I read it. It was called “Y2K” and was beautiful. And the whole time I was reading it I was thinking my god, this would be a brilliant little printed book, something to chew through in a quick sitting but that would leave you reeling. So I emailed Ken and told him my plan, laid out a design, he gave the okay, and mud luscious press mini-chapbooks were born. 

John Madera: What else do you publish?

Bannock Street Books: Right now just flash chapbooks. I did an experimental chap that I call a photo flash; the only words are the title. It is sitting on my desk and I’m staring at it, thinking. I want to publish broadsides for a little side-kick called the Public Fiction Project, which I am going to get up and running as soon as I have a moment.

TinFish Press: An annual journal issue, books, a broadside, occasional works of criticism on our website.

Yazoo River Press: After self-publishing three haiku chapbooks, we decided to publish poetry written in English. We mainly read poets who contacted us for publication and selected those who were publishable and willing to be published by us.

Small Fires Press: I’ve published two volumes of Matchbook, a tiny literary magazine and a smattering of broadsides and odds and ends.

Publishing Genius Press: I definitely consider many of the perfect-bound books Publishing Genius has done to be chapbooks. MLKNG SCKLS, the most recent book by Justin Sirois, is a chapbook for sure. And some of the others are in an awkward space between chap- and full-length book. But Publishing Genius has also published longer stuff like Light Boxes, which is a novella, and then there’s the broadside outdoor journal, isReads. And the daily online journal, Everyday Genius.

Musclehead Press: Besides the chaps, we publish Barbaric Yawp, a 48-page quarterly of poetry, fiction, and book reviews, plus an occasional essay or cartoon. We used to publish The Synergyst, which was strictly poetry, but had to give it up with regret due to lack of time.

Dancing Girl Press: As I mentioned, we’ve done a few projects that have wandered into book arts territory and entail a bit more than our simple stapled volumes. I did a collaborative project with another local artist/poet Lauren Levato which was an envelope filled with poems, images, and ephemera. Michaela Gabriel’s The Secret Meaning of Greek Letters was actually a deck of cards. We also did a box of love letters, billet doux, in which our poets designed envelopes and postcards which made up the contents.  We’re also working on our first full-length book, which is a collaboration between poet Robyn Art and photographer Robin Barcus.

Rose Metal Press: In addition to our chapbook contest winners, we publish two full-length books each year based on what we get in our specific open reading periods or what comes over the transom in the form of unsolicited submissions. We make our selections based on our mission statement:

We’re an independent, not-for-profit publisher of hybrid genres specializing in the publication of short short, flash, and micro-fiction; prose poetry; novels-in-verse or book-length narrative poems; and other works that move beyond the traditional genres of poetry, fiction, and essay to find new forms of expression.

Toad Press: Well, we only publish chapbooks—only 1-2 books of translations each year. We only publish translations. We publish only 1 or 2 books each year.

Blood Pudding Press: Just chapbook-length collections and pretty much just poetry. I publish single-author collections, collaborations, and multi-writer projects that are kind of like chapbook-sized, one-off literary magazines. Andrew Borgstrom reviewed the latest one of those, Spider Vein Impasto, in a previous issue of The Chapbook Review. I also publish an online blog-style literary thing that is a sort of doppelganger of Blood Pudding Press. It’s called Thirteen Myna Birds and features thirteen pieces at any given time. It’s updated on an ongoing basis, so I think of it as a shifting flight formation.

Mud Luscious Press: We have just recently started our novel(la) series and will be releasing three titles over the next year or so: We Take Me Apart, by Molly Gaudry (December, 2009), An Island of Fifty, by Ben Brooks (June, 2010), and When All Our Days Are Numbered Marching Bands Will Fill the Streets and We Will Not Hear Them Because We Will Be Upstairs in the Clouds, by Sasha Fletcher (December, 2010).

John Madera: Who/what are some of your inspirations?

Bannock Street Books: William Blake, of course! When I was younger, I remember telling a professor: “This guy is a lunatic!” He gently corrected me: “You mean, a genius.” No, I meant a lunatic. But when I was 25, lunatics worried me. Now I want to take the lunatics out for coffee and a muffin and listen to them talk.

TinFish Press: These days it’s mostly my students. I have them make chapbooks and they often come up with amazing stuff.

Yazoo River Press: I have a degree in creative writing and an ambition to edit three magazines. Editing two of the three made me inspired to publish chapbooks.

Small Fires Press: Walter Hamady was the first person I think I really saw working in an exciting way I hadn’t ever really seen before. I’d been working in used book stores for a couple of years before I saw his work, and in doing so had seen my share of poetry volumes, including a few chapbooks, but his books were the first that fixed me on the slow move towards publishing. Ugly Duckling Presse has always kept me mesmerized with their productions and constant flow of new and exquisite texts. Effing Press and Skanky Possum did a lot to help guide and direct me while I was living in Austin, although all I published while I was living there was a zine done with a bunch of friends, which was drawn, written, printed, and bound in a day on the topic of insect stings—an immediacy I often long for after spending around three or four-hundred hours to produce the scant 55 to 125 copies of a book I print nowadays.

Publishing Genius Press: Good question. No one asks that anymore. I actually can’t even remember what made me want to start publishing—if I ever knew. I think, when I was interested in doing it but not doing it yet, or not doing it very well, I was really influenced by music and subculture zines, like Punk Planet and Cometbus. Today I’d have to say the people whom I envy/hate are Carl Annarummo at Greying Ghost, Peter Cole at Keyhole, those bastards at Featherproof and those jerks at Caketrain. Sometimes I touch a random book from other presses and it makes me want to puke, it’s so good.

Rose Metal Press: Gutenberg. Thomas Paine. Kristy Bowen. Nate Logan. Mary Walker Graham. Kevin Sampsell. Brian Foley. David versus Goliath. Pretty much all the other people—way too many to name here—doing so much great work with their own indie publishing endeavors. Also, people who appreciate books as art and work to use creative, beautiful formats, layouts, and old presses to house literary works. 

Toad Press: Ugly Duckling Presse, Pilot Books, Bateau, Octopus Books, Tarpaulin Sky, Flying Guillotine Press… I’m sure there are many more that we’re not thinking of. There are so many wonderful presses that are producing books both similar to and better than ours. We love seeing unfamiliar authors and new work and new ways of imagining the chapbook form.

Blood Pudding Press: Other poets and artists, others with DIY zest, creative thinkers, and some twisted amalgamation of feminism and “misfitism.” Or to put it more like a mini artist statement, I am interested in creation rather than modes of production that involve churning out or buying machinated products or hot commodities. I am especially interested in poetic themes that are intertwined with conflicted perceptions of femaleness—societal versus personal, outer versus inner, trying to reconcile the fictive versus the real when it comes to self-constructs and larger constructs. Within this context, the assembly line could be perceived as a doll injection mold. I like poems that are resistant mutants working within or against the doll injection mold. 

Mud Luscious Press: What: the Cupboard Pamphlet Series, Greying Ghost, Sunnyoutside, Calamari, Featherproof, Fugue State Press, Publishing Genius, Ravenna, Ellipsis Press, Keyhole Books, and others. Who: Peter Markus, Blake Butler, Norman Lock, James Chapman, Shane Jones, Joshua Cohen, and others. 

John Madera: How do you define your role as publisher/editor?

Bannock Street Books: No earthly idea. I think of myself as a bookmaker.

TinFish Press: Mostly I’m a facilitator. I take work that I think is important, send it to our wonderful design crew, headed by Gaye Chan, then make sure the book gets published and distributed and reviewed, if possible. I’m also intent on creating a list of books and chapbooks that make an argument—like a giant journal issue, in which works talk to each other, rather than sitting dumbly in place.

Yazoo River Press: Publish the best we can find and help poets to get published.

Small Fires Press: Sometimes more, sometimes less.

Publishing Genius Press: In terms of my role in culture at large, I aim to pose questions about value. Specifically, why do the things that garner mass attention get that attention. I feel strongly that, in some cases, popular media deserves the support they’re given. Like, I don’t care for Lost (I haven’t really seen it), and I haven’t read Harry Potter, but I’m not saying they’re bad things, I mean, like poorly written/produced things. They’re obviously tapping into something—though it probably also makes sense to credit their success to the fact that they’re extremely well-marketed. Anyway, I say that to say that where I come in, I think, is only to say, “Yeah, but this here, this book of little tiny stories by Joe Young, this is also really, really valuable. Let’s give this a shot.”

But I’m not insane. I realize I can’t compete with the major networks, so really all that’s happening is I’m “preaching to the choir.” But I think, too, it’s more than that. Hopefully, I’m keeping the choir entertained while we continue adding to the heap of art that doesn’t get the attention IT deserves. Hopefully, I’m inspiring other people to join the choir.

In a lot of ways, I think the success of Publishing Genius hinges on my taste. I want someone to buy a book by Author-X because he or she enjoyed a book I published by Author-W. On this micro-scale, that’s really part of it. I’m selling my taste, so there is a balance in trying to program the catalog.

Musclehead Press: My role as editor/publisher is to select my favorite poetry and fiction and to publish it for our subscribers. I have no theoretical axe to grind. If I like a piece, and we have room for it, it’s in. I do sometimes give special consideration to younger writers. 

Dancing Girl Press: I’ve always seen an editor more as a collector.  I know a lot of people see them more as gatekeepers, culling the wheat from the chaff, but I think what I choose depends far more on my own tastes and whims than on any standard of what anyone else considers “good” poetry. What I tend to like or publish might not appeal to everyone all the time, but I always feel a bit more like someone collecting culture rather than passing judgment on  it.

Rose Metal Press: We want to strive to discover and spread the word about innovative writers and works, especially works that—because of market considerations and a failure to fit a pre-fabricated bookstore-shelf category—might otherwise struggle to find a good home. We’re very interested in working one-on-one with authors from the early editorial stages up through the planning and execution of readings, events, and book tours, and we’ve been lucky so far to have worked with numerous authors whose enthusiasm for collaboration of this sort matches our own. Also, we have a firm policy against ever publishing ourselves.   

Toad Press: It varies with each book. Some books come to us already very polished, and some authors have precise ideas about how they’d like their book to appear. In other instances, the materials we receive are rather raw, and there’s more to be done on our end. Because we’re working with texts in translation, it’s a different type of editing that takes place. We trust our translators to be making the best decisions they can, and when we must make changes we do our work in collaboration with the authors. We also work closely with our authors to create the appearance of the book—to make sure we’re producing something we’re all pleased with.

Blood Pudding Press: That kind of depends on the project. With the multi-writer projects, I tend to be pretty picky about choosing creative material and arranging that material in such a way that I think it emits a certain “viscerality” that is gooey and bloody without being raw batter. I definitely have a certain aesthetic in mind when assembling those multi-writer print entities. With the online magazine, since it’s more of an ephemeral landscape rather than an artifact-like art object, I am more open to different kinds of poetic voices, even if they aren’t quite my style, because I’m interested in partaking of how different aesthetics interact with each other. 

I don’t really have anything too lofty to say about me as publisher/editor.  Basically, I’m just interested in publishing what I like and I think other poets should publish what they like, too. There’s part of me that would rather focus all my creative energies on writing my own poetry, but I think it’s important to give something back to the creative community and so publishing is part of my attempt to do so.

Mud Luscious Press: I want to find the best work out there and present it as cleanly and as sharply as possible. I want to make the smartest cuts to the greatest works. I want to publicize without inundating. I want to support writers in their success.

John Madera: How would you define your press’s aesthetic? mission?

Bannock Street Books: This is evolving, I think, and I hope people do not misunderstand the press. We are not about making money or making a name. Chapbooks are not a ticket to living the good life of the writer. I don’t accept any of the roles or accepted ways presses work.

So, I have one goal: to get illustrated flash fiction chaps, affordable ones, into reader’s hands. That’s it. I want to share the stories. That is enough for me and I expect it to be enough for the writers and artists—that and a tiny bit of folding. I love stories and I love books and I don’t like being left out of the whole publishing/bookmaking end of things. When stories become products or commodities, and the writer is sucked into the business of making their babies dance on the street corners in short skirts for pennies—no. Not right. I feel like stories are gifts we can share with each other, to forge a human connection. I’m not ever going to do that hustle for money, not with these lovely little chaps, anyway.

If we can cover our costs, I will be overjoyed. But I really don’t ever expect that to happen. And I don’t really care. I love putting the stories together with the art and putting the books in people’s hands. I think this press will fit well with people who do not have expectations of publishing beyond happiness.

TinFish Press: We publish experimental poetry (and some prose) from the Pacific region. My goal all along has been to create channels of communication between writers in Hawai`i and elsewhere in the Pacific, and to cultivate experimental writing here.

Yazoo River Press: Every press has its own judgment and aesthetics. Our mission is to publish the poets who are not known to the poetry world and whose poetry is worth publishing. We are especially interested in poets whose poetry shows a theme of the America south since our press is located in the deep south. But, we consider poets from anywhere in the country.

Small Fires Press: I don’t particularly like missions or aesthetic statements. I just want people to look at the books.

Publishing Genius Press: The Publishing Genius aesthetic is one that calls into question what literature can do. At least that’s what I want it to be, and that’s something I think that’s been accomplished with the densely peculiar chapbooks, for instance, by Andy Devine and Chris Higgs. And then sometimes I end up publishing something because it made me cry a little, like A Jello Horse. The mission, though, like I said, is to try to make books cool like sports and The Wire are cool. I annoy a lot of people when I say that I just want to publish a book as good as Lost. What I mean, though, is I want to capture attention on that scale. It’s hard to talk about this without sounding insane, so I don’t talk about it much. But it’s always there. That’s why I admire the presses I listed—they’re doing work that I can be comfortable talking about to my colleagues at the office. I don’t have to justify their books to people not “in the know” by saying, “Oh, it’s cool man, it’s from a small press.” I just say, “Hey, did you check out the new Ric Royer chapbook from Slack Buddha?” I say, “Oh man, what did you think of that crazy thing in Bear Creek Feed?”

Musclehead Press: Our aesthetic mission—again, we choose what we like. We are not theoreticians. So we publish rhyme, meter, free verse, haiku, shape or concrete poems, whatever touches us or slams us up against the figurative wall.

Dancing Girl Press: Our main goal initially was simply to publish work by women, however that was executed. In the past few years though, we’ve definitely taken a turn towards publishing more innovative work, which has sort of been formed by the evolution of my own interests in poetry.  I’m also interested in hybridity, collage, and multiple media pieces as well.

Rose Metal Press: See above. We chose this mission because although we saw lots of wonderful presses specializing in either poetry or fiction, we wanted to carve out a niche that was distinctive and necessary, hence the focus on hybrid genres. But we want to emphasize that while we are trying to meet a need that we didn’t see being met most other places, our interpretation of what “hybrid” means is extremely broad. The best way to figure out what we mean (everybody says this, but that’s because it’s true) is to read some of our books. But if you’re reading this interview and you think you may have something that would be right up our hybrid alley, the best thing to do would be to query us (mentioning this interview) with a thoughtful and well-written and highly descriptive proposal and ask.  

Toad Press: It’s pretty narrow. We only publish translations, and within that category we prefer more contemporary texts, and we have something of a bent towards the avant-garde, the risky, the odd. We tend to publish more poetry, but we’ve also published a play and a selection of epigrams. We’re open to all forms, as long as they fit within our chapbook format.  

We like our books to have a clean, simple appearance. We’re more interested in producing user-friendly texts and less interested in creating art objects; and our goal is to get the writing out there in an accessible and inexpensive form.

Blood Pudding Press: The Blood Pudding Press aesthetic is related to my inspirations, as noted above. I think of it as a “pussycentric” aesthetic. Here are some other kinds of details the press especially likes, copied from the press website:

Things that ooze like creamy innards of questionable desserts. Pulsating leeches. Discolored flesh. Visible nipples. Sharp things, shiny things, furry things, fun things, and unapologetic things. Railroad track debris and purring pussies. Messy, but not uncooked. Strangely-baked, smart, maybe oblique. Sexy/queasy. Girlie/womanly/queer.

Angry/sweet/volatile/contradictory…and at least a little bit improper.

I also like material that is macabre, horror-like, and/or erotic without being genre-esque. 

Mud Luscious Press: We look for fresh work (sometimes called innovative, sometimes experimental). We want it aggressive and quick, no exposition, no explanation, poetic even in its narrative.  

John Madera: What are some other things writers should consider before submitting to you?

Bannock Street Books: I’m not really taking any subs. From this point on, I am cruising around on the internet, looking for zine published stories that will fit together in a chap- an idea, like the Outlaws chap I did recently. All the stories were about people who walked on the edges of things, people who didn’t fit in and didn’t want to, people two standard deviations from the mean. The stories together said something really powerful about being an outsider.

TinFish Press: Writers should read some of our books. I get submissions often from people who got our name and address from a directory and know nothing of our mission. If the writer thinks that his or her work fits with our mission and complements other work we’ve published, then terrific.

Yazoo River Press: We wish poets know if their poetry is ready for publication. Since a chapbook is a small booklet, we wish to see the poems have a theme. Since our press publishes two poetry magazines, Poetry South and Haiku Page, besides chapbooks, and we are fulltime professors, we don’t have time to critique drafts. It’s better to contact us first with an abstract of their chapbooks.

Small Fires Press: I’m really only interested in publishing collaborations right now. I think the work that comes out of collaborations insists on being embedded in conversation, and I like being a part of that. That being said, I’ll probably wind up continuing to publish some solo work in the future as well.

Publishing Genius Press: This probably isn’t the answer you’re looking for, but—first of all, writers should take into consideration that I’m swamped. I’m not busy like they’re busy. This sounds haughty and indefensible, especially because it’s not rare that I’ll hang out with friends or see a movie. But I got an email the other day from someone who had submitted a story to me a few months ago, to be generous it was three months ago, and I responded at the time that I liked it and that I’m considering it, and then she emailed me about four more stories, and she started touching base every couple weeks. So she emailed me recently and said something like, “I know we’re all busy, but maybe you’ve had time to consider my stories?” And I’m thinking, “Lady, just responding to you is a full-time job.” Last night I wrote a pretty nice rejection letter to a person 50 minutes after she submitted a chapbook of poems that were very good, just not at all right for Publishing Genius. She emailed me back right away saying she had a short story collection and a novel that was being considered some places but maybe I’d like to take a look. Or maybe I’d like to see pictures of her dramatic productions. I emailed back that I’m not accepting book-length manuscripts now and she wrote me back AGAIN saying she could break some of the stories up into a chapbook. Geez, I don’t care what you do. If you want to break some of your story collection into a smaller collection and submit it to Publishing Genius for a chapbook, GREAT, do it. I’ll be very flattered to receive it and I’ll do my best to get back to you quickly, and with a personal response. But I don’t want to talk to you about it in the meantime. I’m not going to help you make selections from your blog. Don’t send me a bunch of pieces and ask me which ones I’d like to publish.

That’s me protecting myself, feeling threatened. I’ve been feeling really threatened by submissions lately. I got an email from my mom today and I thought, oh wow, someone who cares about me! Which, I know, that’s disingenuous too because lots of people care about me. But if you ask me about submissions I get really anxious and stressed out, because I feel guilty. I feel bad rejecting things, and it takes me a long time to write rejection emails. But I will continue to reject things that are based on drugs, sex, or have a lot of cussing. I think swearwords in literature is very tricky to do, and I don’t see a lot of people doing it well.

Dancing Girl Press: I think reading our titles definitely can get you an ideas of the sort of work we publish. I often tell people that submitting to wicked alice is an excellent way to test the waters for your work, as well as get a foot in the door. We also have a list of poets on the guidelines page of the website you could read if you’re looking to gauge what sort of work we publish.

Toad Press: We hope that writers will read the books we’ve put out to get a sense of our goals. Do they approve of us and what we do? Is our press right for them? We’ve turned down many excellent translations only because they didn’t fit our aesthetic. A work can be wonderful but unfortunately not quite right for us.

Blood Pudding Press: Although I accept submissions for Thirteen Myna Birds on an ongoing basis, I only occasionally accept submissions for Blood Pudding Press print projects—and when I am doing so, I usually craft pretty specific guidelines for the latest project. I would like would-be contributors to take the time to find out if I’m actually accepting submissions and to familiarize themselves with my guidelines (and ideally, with at least one past project—and if they can’t afford to buy a chapbook, I am a swooning aficionado of art swaps) before deciding if they think their material would be a good fit for me. I have nowhere near unlimited resources so it makes me feel bad when people just fling work at me, if they don’t seem to have any inkling about my aesthetic. I had a writer chastise me for rejecting him; my rejection note mentioned that his work wasn’t quite visceral enough for my tastes, whereupon he proceeded to make fun of me and asked me what planet I was on. Well, I’m on a planet that’s an acquired taste and so I like people to pay attention to my guidelines and submit to me if they like what I’m doing. If they don’t like my aesthetic, then they shouldn’t submit to me. My publishing projects are a labor of love and so I think that the submissions I receive should be like little love letters. Warped little love letters. Accepted poets will then receive a warped love letter back from me in the form of a hand-designed, ribbon-bound chapbook with some of their material nestled within. Also, I wish that more women would submit to me. 

Mud Luscious Press: If you find something conversational / casual / expositional / explanatory in your writing, cut it, change it, adjust it and then send it our way.

John Madera: What catches your eye when you pick up a manuscript?

Bannock Street Books: Brevity, crystalline language, surprise.

TinFish Press: That’s very hard to say, as it differs. But some combination of ambition, self-consciousness about language and poetry, facility with words, a sense that the writer knows what he or she is doing and has something to say.

Yazoo River Press: Images, images that “make it new,” to quote Ezra Pound.

Small Fires Press: I’m always looking to deconstruct the formal book in some way or another that retains (and hopefully expands) the intentions of the manuscript.

Publishing Genius Press: I want it to be weird, but not goofy. Sentences that are immaculate always trick me into thinking I want to accept something, even if I don’t like what it’s about or if it’s too goofy. I’m thinking particularly of a submission I’m reading now, a book, that is just great in its sentences. I mean, really almost pitch-perfect. But it’s about something so wacky and sorta sci-fi that I can’t accept it. But a strange and precise sentence will make me think differently about a submission and will get me really excited. I can pretty much point to a sentence from everything I’ve published that kept me hanging on, kept me believing that this was something I wanted to work on.

Musclehead Press: What catches my eye? I generally prefer poems that have some empty space in them, I mean like fairly short lines and a number of stanzas. To look at a page full of a block of words, one long stanza of long lines, is a little discouraging, especially after a lengthy day of reading. I prefer an offbeat, short title. 

Dancing Girl Press: I’m always looking for manuscripts whose poems feel like they belong together and weren’t just randomly tossed together. Focused series appeal to me, as do “project” books. I also like quirkiness, humor, a strong sense of authority and risk taking.

Rose Metal Press: Mission statements and guidelines exist for a reason, of course, so it’s always helpful when people are submitting something because they think it’s a fit with the Rose Metal Press aesthetic (as opposed to just sending us their standard issue novel or poetry collection, which people do, and which bugs us). Beyond that, it’s hard to say until we’re actually reading the work. It’s like what Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart said about the threshold of obscenity—we know it when we see it.  

Toad Press: Language, imagination, wit, complexity, wonder, irony, sincerity, innovation… We’re interested in the text itself—who is the author? has it been previously translated? what is the source text? what language is the text translated from?—but these concerns are secondary to what actually appears on the page. Ultimately, we don’t publish based on idea or history or purpose; we’re most attracted to the poem (or story or play) on the page. Our final decisions are based on what we find there.

Mud Luscious Press: For about sixty-seconds, I am game for anything. Once that time is up, I will only keep reading if the work compels me. I look for those words, those phrases, those sentences, the ones that insist I read on and have me at the end before I realize it. 

John Madera: What are your thoughts about graphic design? printmaking? publishing?

Bannock Street Books: This is so much fun, I think all writers should have the experience of designing and printing a book. We need people who have a stake in how the book comes out, a real stake, not money, and when writers get to design and illustrate their own books, we are going to see some real beauties!

TinFish Press: Design is crucial. It’s the first public reading of a work, so it matters that that reading is vivid and interesting to the readers who follow. We use a lot of designers, mostly design students from my university; it’s wonderful to see the responses they come up with, very surprising sometimes.

Yazoo River Press: Usually our newly hired art editor will design a cover for the approval of the editor(s) and then send it to the poets for their opinions. We use two printers. If a chapbook is a thin booklet, we prefer to have it stitched/stapled. Otherwise, it can go to a more professional printer for perfect bound printing. We send copies to magazines for chapbook review and we wish the poets to be an active part of publishing. Their job is not just to have their chapbooks published; they should also go out to the public or their readers circle to “sell” their chapbooks.

Small Fires Press: I try and keep things as clean and conservative as I can, which basically means I try to keep myself restrained and this seems to keep the elements under control. I love printing—especially weird and difficult registrations, ink colors, and finicky substrates. I try to build in something I’m going to learn from in each book—a new technique/style/odd font/etc.—although this tends to happen naturally.

Publishing Genius Press: The more I do it, the more I realize how hard design work is. Making a good-looking product is priority one for me—or, it’s the priority right behind getting an amazing piece of writing, maybe priority 1a—and it’s also the most exciting part of the project. Nothing charges me like seeing the art for a book.

A lot of the chapbooks I read are unremarkable and I’m disappointed by them, almost regardless of the quality of the writing. So I think craftsmanship is tied to the definition of what a chapbook is. Which is certainly not to say that I want ribbon binding and rose petals smashed into the paper. But somehow, careful design and construction is paramount.

For printmaking, I wish I was better at it. I’m not crafty and I’m impatient. But I envy people who are good at it.

Musclehead Press: Graphic design: we don’t spend a lot of time with our covers. They are usually photos or drawings chosen from random stuff we’ve created or accumulated.  I like variety. At Barbaric Yawp, we concentrate on the Word and the presentation of the Word, not ornamental design.

Dancing Girl Press: I usually look to the poet for their ideas on what they feel their book should look like. It’s great if they already have artwork in mind or artist friends who can furnish something. Otherwise, I try to get a feel for what they want in terms of style, color, texture. The covers I design wholly myself tend to be super simple, modern, and elegant. Most of our books are full color covers on either white cardstock or color and staple-bound, which allows us to keep our budget down and our books relatively inexpensive.

Rose Metal Press: We firmly believe that a book is not just about the words the author or poet has written, but how those words are presented to the reader. We spend a great deal of time working on the page and cover designs for our books and finding nuanced ways to allow the typefaces, spaces, and artwork to add to the challenge and pleasure we hope readers experience when reading our books. We currently work with two fabulous book designers, Rebecca Saraceno and Melissa Gruntkosky. Our chapbook covers each year are letterpressed by hand by the designers and publishers at the Museum of Printing in North Andover, Massachusetts, using a vintage Vandercook press and the typefaces found in the old type drawers around the museum. Two of those chapbooks have won spots in the New England Book Show for design. For our perfect-bound books, we try to work with up-and-coming artists, to give their work more exposure, and, in many cases, use hybrid artwork to lure readers into cross-genre literature. As the press grows, we hope to be able to experiment even more with alternate book sizes and design elements. 

Toad Press: Design is one of our favorite parts of the publishing process. While we’re decidedly low-tech—most of our chapbooks are handmade—we get excited about the decisions that come with publishing: cover images, colors, paper, typeface, and all that good stuff. Being able to turn a manuscript into a book is a pretty fantastic thing.   

Mud Luscious Press: I think we have a nice grip on the design aesthetic of our chapbook series, but opening the new novel(la) series has been an adventure. Publishing a full-length work with cover artists, layout, author revisions, graphic design, etc., has been a steep learning curve. We are loving it, and getting our licks in, but it has been a fun challenge.  

John Madera: Talk about the commerce of publishing.

Bannock Street Books: Not me! I don’t think money and art belong together. I’m not trying to make money. I’m trying to make books. So I work like a dog at my day job to support this little endeavor.

TinFish Press: Terrible. Chapbooks can be wonderful if they’re cheap to produce and easy to exchange. Our chaps are more costly these days because we have them done professionally. They don’t usually sell as well as full-length books, so that’s difficult. We do have some that sell, which helps with those that do not. But, as I tell my students, it’s a different economy from the one we usually think of. The best way to recoup one’s investment is to have books used in classrooms. It’s also a great way to get the word out.

Yazoo River Press: We expect poets to buy copies of their chapbooks we publish. If Ezra Pound could self-publish his first poetry pamphlet, then potential poets can do it too.

Small Fires Press: So far I’m staying broke. I’m making back the money spent on the book materials, but not the time. I think that’s about the best one can usually hope for unless they’ve got financial backing from some sort of grant or institution.I’m trying to figure out a way to raise enough money to buy a Vandercook and the accompanying gear right now, and so far that’s involving working overtime and selling a bunch of books and records on eBay.

Publishing Genius Press: I keep trying to figure out how I can make a living at this. It’s the sort of thing where you need a million dollars to start, and from there you can maybe keep PandL level, if you’re really lucky or really talented. But I’m in the happy position of thinking of Publishing Genius as a hobby, and one that, because of my business model to date, is less expensive than, say, being in a band is for my band mates. If I thought of it as anything other than a hobby, though, albeit a hobby that is all-consuming, I would get really disappointed in myself.

I’m taking a very narrow approach to your question. I’ve been thinking about it on that level a lot lately, because the numbers I deal with are very small. From a macro level, I can say that the margins are so tight that it’s really difficult to sustain a press for a long time. Publishers don’t hold a lot of cards over booksellers and stupid Amazon. But that said, the booksellers I’ve worked with have been great and very fair (just not Amazon).

Musclehead Press: We have a solid core of regular subscribers now who supply us with valuable feedback. I’d like to print some fancy paperbacks someday, when we have time and money.

I’d like to say that we don’t make any money publishing but we do break even and that’s good enough.

Dancing Girl Press: Most of our sales come primarily via our website. We also sell quite a bit at book fairs, readings, and other events, but the internet is our primary mode of distribution. I’ve always tried to keep the overhead reasonably low, and usually the sales from one book will pay for the next. We moved the operation into a studio space a couple years ago, funded mostly by the proceeds from the online shop, which sells paper goods and accessories, and allows us to keep growing and increase our publication list each year.

Rose Metal Press: Um, it’s kind of crappy? Or at least it’s not a realistic way to plan on supporting oneself financially. Both of us have regular 9-to-5 day jobs, and we do all our RMP work on top of the work for which we actually get paid. We’ve found that it’s possible to stay in the black with the press by making a business plan and sticking to it, and having that plan focus on putting out a small but steady supply of high-quality books each year in small but respectable print runs. And we’ve found that to be truly happy and successful with the commerce of publishing, such as it is, it helps to believe, really and sincerely, that there are some things that it is worth much more than money to be able to do.

That said, it’s heartening to see how many people do buy our books and support our authors. There are definitely lots of people out there who want to be challenged by literature and who want something other than potential bestsellers that mainstream presses are hawking. It’s just tough to create a sustainable business model when you view the profitability of a book as secondary to the desire to give innovative writing a way to get into the hands of readers and use high-quality, mostly ecologically responsible materials to do it. So we in turn, have to be innovative about how to stay afloat.

Toad Press: Since we’re so small, I feel like we participate in “commerce” much less than other presses. In some ways we’re also less interested in the “commerce” aspect. We want to make the books available to those who are interested, and we send them out to a variety of authors and review venues each year, as well as archives like the Richard Hugo House Library, Poets House, and even a university library or two each year. Occasionally we send our books to bookstores like Quimby’s (Chicago) or Prairie Lights (Iowa City) to sell, but mostly you have to email us if you want to buy a copy. There are certainly simple things we could do to sell our books more easily—we’ll get around to putting a PayPal button on our website one of these days, for example—but we haven’t felt like that’s necessary yet. 

Mud Luscious Press: Every single dollar that mud luscious press has ever made has been put into paying authors, buying supplies, making new volumes, or checking out work by other presses. That is our commerce. I do not expect to make money, I do not want to. I want something priced right—I make these chapbooks at my kitchen table, so $3 seems fair on both ends. We will keep our novel(la)s in line too—we don’t want to gouge, to hide our prices with shipping costs, etc. For me this is a love, a must, like reading Ken’s poem and thinking I must publish this, so we are only as much business as is necessary to continue.

John Madera: Do you write fiction/poetry/nonfiction, how does this influences and inform your approach/aesthetic/mission?

Bannock Street Books: I’ve stopped writing fiction since I’ve been publishing, and since becoming an editor at Flashquake. Not sure why, but I’ve taken up the camera and now I’m trying to tell stories without words—not entirely successful yet.

TinFish Press: I write poetry—these days mainly in prose. I’m sure it informs my selection of work, but that work also influences my own writing. It’s a good conversation to have between oneself and other writers, especially if they are not doing exactly the same thing one is attempting to do.

Yazoo River Press: Yes, we write poetry and sometimes fiction and nonfiction. One of our editors was a nominee for the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. We have our taste, but we judge a manuscript mainly according to their merits and tastes. Just like sometimes you go to an Italian restaurant; sometimes you go to a Mexican one.

Small Fires Press: I do write poetry, but the more I get interested in publishing, the less I write. That’s not to say it’s got to be one way or the other, but it is the way it seems to be happening for me.

Publishing Genius Press: I do write, mostly genre unspecific stuff, and I think I only publish writing that is like what I write in one way—it’s great. But in a lot of other ways there is no relationship at all. I’ll never be able to write like Justin Sirois does, and I don’t want to. I don’t think I’ve ever compared myself to anything I’ve published before.

The more interesting thing that’s going on with the relationship between my writing and publishing is that I can’t submit anymore. I really hardly ever do it. I hardly ever did before, but now I might send two things a year. When someone solicits me, I’ll contribute. But I feel really weird about sending my work to a publisher who has sent work to me. I’m okay that they do it, and it doesn’t influence my decision that I know their press, but it means I can’t do it back. It’s tricky. I don’t want my motivations questioned.

Dancing Girl Press: I think my own poetry work has itself changed over the course of the last several years running the press, and probably what we publish reflects that somewhat. I tend to publish the sort of work that I myself want to read and write, as well as the stuff that amazes me and that I could never in a million years write.

Rose Metal Press: Kathleen writes and has published books of literary/cultural criticism, poetry, collaborative poetry, memoir, and personal essays. Personally, she likes to read—and try to write—work that does multiple, and sometimes seemingly competing things at once, so focusing on publishing work in hybrid genres feels like a natural offshoot of that interest.  

Abby writes mainly poetry, though she’s often inspired by what we read to try flash or other experiments. In her day job, she edits and writes a back-page column for a trade magazine. Because her publishing interests have always run the gamut from magazines to journals to books and from writing poetry to journalism to book design, Rose Metal gives her the opportunity to meld all her greatest loves into producing works that expand the field of publishing.

Toad Press: We find it easy to separate our own writing from what we publish; and publishing only translations helps add distance, too. 

Mud Luscious Press: I write fiction, though some label my work as prose poetry. But regardless of the categorization, my own struggle to write, to keep writing, to create the best writing, all makes me a fairly unforgiving and sharp critic. And seeing so much work pour through our e-gates daily and working with my own editors/publishers at the same time, I am learning everyday and will continue to forever I think. 

John Madera: In what ways has your press grown?

Bannock Street Books: I’m only eight months old. I’m letting the press remain fairly organic, so I can change systems of working without too much trouble. I think my original plans have mostly proved not really doable, other than the basic idea of illustrated flash fiction anthologies. I think for next year I am going to only work on one chap at a time, and do fewer, so I can spend more time on marketing and distribution.

TinFish Press: We publish more and the quality of the production went up considerably in the early 1990s.  Because we have stuck around, people know about us, and that helps a lot.

Yazoo River Press: We don’t try to grow in a commercial way, we just want to find the best we can, more like an explorer to a never discovered world.

Small Fires Press: I’ve got like ten books done now instead of zero.

Publishing Genius Press: It grew a lot in the last few months, when we sold the film rights and reprint rights to Light Boxes. In a lot of ways, I feel a little sad that I already reached this apex because there’s no next move. I’m going to be working backwards from here on out. But that’s just in terms of growth, which doesn’t have a lot to do with what I do. I do what I do because I love it, and despite my best efforts, the growth has happened outside of me.

Musclehead Press: Our press has grown over the years. We started with Barbaric Yawp, then added the chapbooks, and then The Synergyst. But we had to cut The Synergyst after 14 issues. There’s only so much time.

Dancing Girl Press: We started out from publishing about 3-5 books per year, to around 20 or so the past couple of years. Our readership and sales have definitely grown to a point I never imagined, and our number of subscribers increases every year. Next year the plan is to scale back and give myself a break…maybe.

Rose Metal Press: Well, we’ve grown in the way most publishers do as they settle into their mission and into the day to day of publishing books: we’ve established better processes and infrastructures and made contacts with printers and that sort of thing. But the biggest way we’ve grown, and the way we’re most proud of, is that our reach keeps expanding, which provides more and more opportunities for our authors. We’ve worked really hard to market our books widely, despite a small budget, and organize readings and events for our authors. It’s paid off in interested readers and reviewers not only across the country, but now around the globe. 

Toad Press: Well, it hasn’t. And we’re pretty happy with our size—publishing one or two titles a year works well for us, and affords us time to really take care with the titles we do select.  

Mud Luscious Press: For the first year, mud luscious was strictly online, published quarterly. For the second year, we were both online and creating the chapbook series, which took off much quicker and with more of an explosion than we had anticipated. Now, in year three, that explosion allowed us to delve into this novel(la) series, something we are so eternally stoked for it is nearly impossible to describe. And if we can keep gaining subscribers, keep selling books, we hope to reach the point of 3-4 novel(la)s per year alongside a continued 12-15 chapbook titles. Fingers crossed, fingers crossed. 

John Madera: What are some of your goals?

Bannock Street Books: I have an idea that fiction belongs free, running loose in the world. Especially flash fiction. I want to make books because I love books. I love pictures in books, so I am illustrating these. And I love to read flash by different writers, especially stories on a theme. But I have a dream: the Public Fiction Project. When fiction stops being a commodity, it stops being about money, and becomes an art again, and a way people can forge connections with each other. This is public fiction. I want to figure out a way we can distribute illustrated flash fiction broadsides across the world, so stories can be spread like some viral pandemic of flash! How cool would that be? I know how to do it, I just need time. And a housekeeper.

TinFish Press: I don’t have any new goals, except perhaps to sponsor some readings (I’m terrible at hunting for grant money, though). Mostly to keep doing what TinFish is doing.

Yazoo River Press: Publish the poets that have ambition to be recognized by the main stream.

Small Fires Press: To continue publishing within my means—although to occasionally give them a little nudge. To publish work I find personally valuable and playful. To never stop, ever. No matter what. Unless I stop enjoying it.

Publishing Genius Press: I would like to publish books that advance the literary dialog, that create a framework for looking at and talking about literature a different way. Like Donald Barthelme and Ben Marcus and James Joyce and Blake Butler.

Musclehead Press: Goals? Keep on doing the magazine, and, as I said earlier, eventually publish handsome paperbacks or even hardcovers. You can read all the Kindles you want, but there are few things as satisfying as a beautiful book in your hand. 

Dancing Girl Press: I hope in the next year or so to add some broadsides to our offerings, as well as complete a couple of book art projects. We will also be publishing our first full-length collection, and if that goes well, we’ll be doing some more of them.

Rose Metal Press: We plan to continue to publish three books a year (one chapbook contest winner and two full-length books) and to continue to expand our concept of what “hybrid genre” means by considering all kinds of cross-genre works. We hope to dedicate even more time and resources to promoting our books and authors: getting readings set up around the country, achieving wider distribution, encouraging course adoptions, tapping into more reviewing outlets, stuff like that. We certainly wish we could publish more books each year, but it’s just as important to us that the books we do publish reach the most potential readers because that’s a big part of why we do what we do. We don’t feel that expanding the idea and bounds of genre has to be limited to the creative writing community (though we love that community and are super grateful for all the support it offers). 

Toad Press: To keep doing what we’re doing, first of all. We know one or two books a year isn’t much, but it adds up! We’re in our sixth year now and have successfully published nine chapbooks. In an ideal world, we’d love to publish more books each year, and in a super-extraordinary world, we’d have an enormous letterpress and make hand-printed books complemented by an incredible website with Flash graphics and cutesy little polls . . . but since none of these things is likely to happen soon, we’re happy with where we’re at. 

Mud Luscious Press: Keep a strong touch on our online foundation, continue to find the best short work for our chapbook series, and make our novel(la)s as desirable and wanted as any other books out there. And too, to let the new vibes in this writing community soak into us, inform us – like the Bleached Whale design of Scorch Atlas, the Paper Egg subscription deal, the Keyhole Books online author readings, etc.  

John Madera: Who would you love to publish and why?

Bannock Street Books: It’s the story, not the writer. I loved this story in flashquake a few years ago: “Go, Union.” I tried to track that writer down for months to get him to agree to let me publish his story in a chap but he has disappeared!

TinFish Press: I would love to publish the next surprising writer whose work shows up on my desk. I’m less into particular authors any more than into projects they do. We publish quite a bit of work in translation—from Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese—and I would like to do more of that. We also publish work in Pidgin (Hawai`i Creole English). Ditto there. I also want to publish an experimental translation of work from Hawaiian, but have yet to succeed at commissioning such a work.

Yazoo River Press: Our goal is to publish poets whose poetry is excellent but who have had rare chance to be published by the main stream publishers.

Small Fires Press: Nick Cave. I just can’t stop thinking about that guy.

Publishing Genius Press: Mairéad Byrne. Joseph Young. Andy Devine. Mike Young. A Minetta Gould and Amber Nelson—all people I’m publishing. The Publishing Genius advisory committee and I sat around the other day and made a list of people to solicit for a novel next year, and I have to admit that no one on that list got me jazzed as much as what I’ve already got lined up. Isn’t that amazing?

Musclehead Press: I have no special goals to publish particular writers. It would be great if Billy Collins would submit to us, but if so his work would go through the same filtering process as all the others. He wouldn’t receive special treatment.

Rose Metal Press: One of the things we’ve found challenging—and that we’ve heard from lots of other journal and press editors that they’ve also grappled with—is striking a gender balance in the work we publish. So far, we’ve managed to keep it fairly even, and for us, the quality of the work itself is always the most important criterion in deciding what to publish. But we do find that for whatever reason, in terms of unsolicited submissions, men seem to submit in much greater numbers (like close to 85 percent lately) than women. Ladies, if you’re reading this, keep us in mind.  

Toad Press: We don’t have anyone particular in mind—our press is too small for “big names”, which is okay with us. There are so many people doing great work out there! And our open submissions policy and lack of reading fee make us approachable. We love to publish authors we haven’t heard of before and translations of work that is new to us or isn’t available in the United States. We’d also be excited to see more work by women (which, to be honest, we see very little of, either as author or translator), as we suspect there are some brilliant source texts out there just waiting to be translated and published.

Mud Luscious Press: Miranda Mellis, Garth Buckner, Roy Kesey, Gary Lutz—all stellar writers who produce unbelievable work.

John Madera: Who have you published and why?

Bannock Street Books: Some of my faves: “Smolder,” by S.V. Patrick, in the chap called Smolder; “Of Soulful Cheese and Unmet Needs” by Elaine Chiew, in Things Are Looking Up; “El Circo: A Closer Look Into the Lives of Jugglers,” by Jesus Silveyra Tapia, from Rough Beast; “Skip, Patch, Eye, Brownie, Chalk,” by Randall Brown and “Painted Faces,” by Tim Jones-Yelvington, from the chap titled Skip, Patch. And, the favorite story of my mother and my son, “Custard’s Last Stand,” by Matt Bell, that was published as a loose story tucked inside a popcorn box. I have a gross of 1000 popcorn boxes on the way, and I plan on filling them with fun stories. My current plan is to give them away on the street. Oh, and the new chap Outlaws. I love every story in this chap, especially J.A. Tyler’s “in the cold, when the night changes with Jimmy,” and “Tempache,” by Erik Svehaug. Wow, this is such a fantastic chap. Coop Renner let me use this really cool painting of his for the cover: a red horse that really looks like an outlaw. I did a chap with Stefanie Freele that was a lot of fun; her story “Motel,” told in eight flashes, and illustrated with old motel signs. Great story.

TinFish Press: We’ve published a wide range of chapbooks, including works by Norman Fischer, a Buddhist priest, Sarith Peou, a Cambodian genocide survivor who is in prison in Minnesota, a collaboration between Pam Brown (Australia) and Maged Zaher (Seattle), poetic prose by Jacinta Galea`i, and many others. Some of the emphases are personal; I’m interested in Buddhism and in Cambodia (the latter because my son was born there), others have to do with wanting to spread word of work from the Pacific that is multi-lingual (Jacinta’s work, for example, which is in English and Samoan). And I very much like to encourage writers here in Hawai`i.

Yazoo River Press: Philip Kolin’s and Jianqing Zheng’s chapbooks and a lot of good poets in Poetry South and Haiku Page.

Small Fires Press: I’ve published generally younger, lesser known, or unknown poets because that’s what I relate to—it’s who I want to support and be supported by. I also find it important to try and publish people I either know are nice, or seem nice when they send me their work to consider. So far I’ve published Scott Pierce, Mathias Svalina, Julia Cohen, Michael Lee, Ryan Flaherty, Joshua Ware, Megan Gannon, Rachel May, John Chavez, and Alex Chambers, as well as a couple handfuls of folks in the two issues of Matchbook.

Publishing Genius Press: Well, when Chris Higgs sent me his chapbook, Colorless Green Ideas Sleep Furiously, I said, oh man, oh man, heck yeah, no question about it. I’m publishing this. It’s genius. I published Light Boxes, by Shane Jones because, first of all, I thought he had a cool story there, and second because it was the length I wanted to work on. Huh—that was back at a time when I was just working on one book at a time and would decide at the time when I wanted to do it. That was maybe funner. Now I feel spread thin and—this isn’t the case with the books but it can happen with the chapbooks, which come out more frequently—sometimes I’ve got to work on a project that I’m less excited about than something coming down the pipe.

Anyway, I think I’ve gotten off track a lot here. In digital interviews, I take the approach that I should just write what I would say if I were talking in a room, so excuse all of my divergences. This is an interesting question, but it would take me all day to give specific answers in any detail.

Musclehead Press: We haven’t published any big names.  Oh, we did publish an interview with Andrei Codrescu in our April issue.  We have published lots of familiar small-press names. 

Rose Metal Press: Who: A bevy of great flash fiction writers in our first collection, Brevity and Echo; Peter Jay Shippy’s book-length narrative poem How to Build the Ghost in Your Attic; Claudia Smith’s chapbook of short shortsThe Sky Is a Well and Other Stories; Amy Clark, Kathy Fish, Elizabeth Ellen, and Claudia Smith’s flash fiction in A Peculiar Feeling of Restlessness; Geoffrey Forsyth’s chapbook of short shorts In the Land of the Free; Carol Guess’s prose poem collection Tinderbox Lawn; Sean Lovelace’s chapbook of short shorts How Some People Like Their Eggs; and the Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction, which brings together essays and exercises and stories from teachers, editors, and experts in the field of flash fiction.

Why: Because their manuscripts were challenging and wonderful and human and like nothing we’d ever read before.

Toad Press: I could give you a list, or you could just look at our website: www.toadpress.blogspot.com. It has pictures!  

Blood Pudding Press: Some of the writers I’ve published are Kyle Simonsen, Lisa Ciccarello, Rachel Kendall, Jill Alexander Essbaum, Misti Rainwater-Lites, John Rocco, Melissa Culbertson, Susan Slaviero, T.A. Noonan, Sara Mumolo, Melissa Crowe, Matina Stamatakis, Derek Motion, Kenneth Pobo, Kristy Bowen, Michalle Gould, Rebecca Loudon, Sharon Zetter, Daniela Olszewska, Sean Kilpatrick, AnnMarie Eldon, Nicole Cartwright Denison, Melissa Severin, Gina Abelkop, Nathan Logan, and Letizia Merello.  Why?  Because I like their poetry. 

Mud Luscious Press: Our list, as of today (and because they all rock): Ken Baumann, Shane Jones, Jimmy Chen, Brandi Wells, Blake Butler, Nick Antosca, Sam Pink, James Chapman, Colin Bassett, Michael Kimball, Jac Jemc, Kim Chinquee, Kim Parko, Norman Lock, Randall Brown, Brian Evenson, Michael Stewart, Peter Markus, Ken Sparling, Aaron Burch, David Ohle, Matthew Savoca, P. H. Madore, Johannes Goransson, Charles Lennox, Ryan Call, Elizabeth Ellen, Molly Gaudry, Kevin Wilson, Mary Hamilton, Craig Davis, Lavie Tidhar, Lily Hoang, and Kendra Grant Malone.

John Madera: Who are you publishing next?

Bannock Street Books: I’ve got a chapbook about menopause in the batter’s box, and next up after that is a chapbook of stories by vets.

TinFish Press: Our next chapbook will be by Lyz Soto, called Eulogies, a documentary poem about her late ex-husband’s death, schizophrenia, and place. After that, a chapbook by Gizelle Gajelonia, called 13 Ways of Looking at TheBus, about our public transportation system, and other poets (for example, “13 Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” gets translated into terms of TheBus.

Yazoo River Press: We will slow our progress for a while since our editor is now serving as a Fulbright Scholar in China, but we will restart in 2010 with a chapbook contest.

Small Fires Press: That’s going to have to be a surprise because I’m not sure yet.

Publishing Genius Press: I’m excited to be working on a book by Joseph Young at the moment. There are very few people who do flash fiction in a way that makes me think, rewards my thought, and can exist beautifully if I choose not to think about a piece, and he’s one of them. This book, Easter Rabbit, is a wholly complete collection that is deceptively challenging to read. The work is perfect and beautiful, and I feel deeply honored to get to publish it. It started at 50 pieces—a nice chapbook—and I kept getting excited and decided to lengthen it to a full-length book. Is it the best thing Publishing Genius has done yet?

At the same time, I’m working with my favorite poet, Mairéad Byrne, on a collection of poems from Heaven, a blog she kept over the last few years. Together with the poems of Matt Cook, she was, I think, the one who drew me back to the form (-slash-formless). So she and I have been discussing the best way to bring a blog to a book. She thinks of it as an ironic move, and, she said, “I’m the least ironic of poets.” That’s so cool. It’s such a fun problem, approaching the design question from the angle of trying not to make the poems too precious by putting them between covers.

Joe’s book is heavy. Mairéad’s book is light.

Musclehead Press: Our next two chapbooks are by Steve Henn and William Michaelian, both due out soon.

Dancing Girl Press: We have a huge schedule of books left this year, and, as always I’m a bit behind. We’re working on titles by Jen Blair, Dierdre Dore, Jaquelyn Lyons, and Sarah Gardner at the moment, with about another dozen to go in the next few months.  Next year, I already have a couple of books slated for release, by Jessica Bozek and Mary Ann Samyn.

Rose Metal Press: Just last month, we released our latest short short chapbook contest winner, How Some People Like Their Eggs by Sean Lovelace, so we’re deep in the throes of doing publicity for that. In fact, if you’re going to be in or near Muncie, Indiana this fall, you should avail yourself of the chance to hear him read, and maybe buy him some nachos. Early next year, we’re going to release The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Prose Poetry: Contemporary Poets in Discussion and Practiceedited by Gary L. McDowell and F. Daniel Rzicznek, the second book in a two book series that started with The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction, edited by Tara L. Masih and released earlier this spring. After the second Field Guide, we’ll release our as-yet-to-be-selected Fourth Annual Short Short Chapbook Contest winner, and in Fall of 2010, we’re excited to release one of the most unusual books we’ve done so far, Color Plates, by Adam Golaski. 

Blood Pudding Press: I’m currently working on a chapbook by Dana Guthrie Martin, which I hope to have completed soon.  Then I’m going to focus on self-publishing a chapbook as part of the dusie kollektiv 4. I’ll be accepting submissions for Thirteen Myna Birds on an ongoing basis, but I’m not sure when I’ll be accepting for another Blood Pudding Press print project. Probably not until mid-2010. We’ll see. I have a blog for Blood Pudding Press at http://www.bloodyooze.blogspot.com, so interested parties can swallow the latest scoops there. I also have an etsy shop for the press at http://www.BloodPuddingPress.etsy.com if you’d like to take a gander at past and current offerings.  To stay abreast of all my creative projects, visit me at http://www.JulietCook.weebly.com 

Mud Luscious Press: Mark Baumer, Ben Tanzer, Krammer Abrahams, Joshua Cohen, Eugene Lim, C. L. Bledsoe, Joanna Ruocco, Josh Maday, Michael Martone, Rauan Klassnik, Riley Michael Parker, Cooper Renner, Matt Bell, Amy Guth, Molly Gaudry, Ben Brooks, and Sasha Fletcher.

John Madera: What else is there on the horizon for your press?

Bannock Street Books: I will be interested to find out! I wish there was more good CNF flash out there. I would love to collect groups of essays on the great ideas.

TinFish Press: I’m not sure. These are not heady times economically, but they are heady artistically. I can only anticipate seeing more wonderful work than we can publish, and plugging away at what we can.

Yazoo River Press: Sunrise.

Small Fires Press: That’s a rough question right now because of my total lack of a place to print. I could really use a donor or lender to give me some letterpress supplies, and a press. Is that too much to ask for?

So until I can afford it myself I’ll probably have to take a step back from the way I’ve printed in the past and do more of my work at Kinko’s. I can always go back to Glen House’s studio in Gordo, Alabama and try and get some work done there for at least the covers of books though. I also plan on printing Matchbook, although the timeline for doing that will probably stay loose.

Publishing Genius Press: Simply, I hope, to be.

Rose Metal Press: We’ll soon be busy reading submissions to our fourth annual short short chapbook contest, which runs from October 15 through December 1. This year we are thrilled to have Dinty W. Moore as our judge. Details about submitting are on our website (www.rosemetalpress.com). 

We’ll also be at the AWP conference again this year. We’ll be launching the Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Prose Poetry, as well as participating in panels on both the prose poetry and flash fiction Field Guides.

That’s about it. Grant writing, raising money in other ways, scheduling readings, shipping books, searching out great cross-genre writing. You know, the usual.

Toad Press: We don’t know! We accept submissions each year between October and December, so we won’t be making any decisions until January or February of 2010.  

Mud Luscious Press: We Take Me Apart will be available in December, 2009 (pre-orders are being taken now) and new 2010 subscription packages for chapbooks, novel(la)s, and both will be up for purchase in late 2009. Otherwise, we just keep on trucking.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Lamp like l’mapLamp like l’map

Poems by Ben Estes with drawings by Zachary Schomburg
Factory Hollow Press
$7.00

Reviewed by Alec Niedenthal
Lamp like l’map is poetry in search of a subject. It concerns itself with objects—leaf, arch, wool, vault, weed, cathedral—but deprives them of material force; the language itself acquires the status of equipment. Ben Estes does not find poetry in objects: he instead finds objects in poetry. His chapbook is not so much concerned with how the object relates to a subject—the personal or profound materials with which the object is equipped—as it is with how the object and subject are inevitably the same.

From “Vault,” an exemplary poem: “Vault lollipop vault. Vault area. Conditions of vaulting.” What are the conditions of vaulting? Precisely the vaulting of vault; “vault”—the word as object of the poem—vaults. But for Estes, objects are not as easy as their invocations. He loses “vault” as the poem goes on:

Honey I’m vault. Upturn the vault. Getting here
from above. Getting hungry. Getting defeated. Getting to
the glade. Getting bleaker. Getting to be adored. Getting
frightened. Getting hopeful. Getting fancy, and getting the
intent, and legal, and so on and so on…

The poem loses its object—but to what? “Is there a vault?” the poem asks, further on. “Am I the vault?” The vault announces itself as “I”—thusly, Estes makes his objects speak. But he does not surround his objects (especially in “Intention” and “Books and Plants”) with personal material, but opens them up to, and in, speech. Lamp like l’map: Do we encounter the lamp or the map? The physical material—the lamp—or the language by which it is constituted? Are the two any different? In Estes’s poems—textured, spare, at once material and abstract—they are inextricably bound.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

OutlawMotel

By Stephanie Freele

Bannock Street Books

Reviewed by Sean Lovelace

HERE IS WHERE I INTRODUCE THE CHAPBOOK

This is a motel, not a hotel, get it? Is that blood? Fuck yes it’s blood, deep red drops. You want to donate? Is that semen? Fuck yes it’s semen, on the ceiling, in the shape of broccoli spears, so what? Your TV has one channel, and it’s the Ass Channel–so why call me? What are you, religious? What’s your problem? Your lock is broken? What about your teeth? Well then don’t use the toilet, sir. What the fuck is this? A credit card! We take cash, Rockefeller. We charge by the hour. What sound? What siren? What spleen-curdling scream? This is a motel, not a hotel, get it?

Now get your ass inside…

HERE IS WHERE I GO MOTEL TO MOTEL

Motel 1.

motel 2

It is 11pm when he says “You’re on the wrong street” in that tone, that backseat driver tone that makes her want to throw her coffee in his face.

Tone. Attitude. How the author senses the situation. What the author sees, wants us to see, the “Shadows. Concrete. Rebar. Weeds” of these character’s lives.

[Aside: My top 3 hotel experiences.

1.) 45 minutes in that mildewy room outside Nashville. She had blue hair. Very cool hair.

2.) You ever seen a mound of cocaine? A mound. This was Nebraska, a life ago.

3.) Spent all night in Arizona watching Andy Griffith with my step-mom. We bonded over that show, I think. Later she would steal all my credit cards.]

Motel 2.

jump copy“The manager wants to see what you’re up to.”

Now we close the psychic distance. Now we care. Now she stands by a dumpster (objective correlative of a discarded life). What is she up to? This we call plot. Now we turn the page.

Motel 3.

If she still carried a gun she’d kill the wall or the bed.

[These poems are centered on the page. I don’t like that shit. Who does that? Maybe I’m just irritated. I keep getting the brakes “fixed”on my car but they keep making a sound like I’m strangling a cat. I don’t have the time or money for this shit. A mechanic is all about vocabulary, I mean as power. But I digress.]

Chekhov says you bring out that gun it better fire. Unleash that gun, Character-Who-Dwells-in-Motel 3! Fire that gun, Stefanie!

[Aside: I once pulled a gun on a man in a motel in Connecticut. He just walked in the room. I said, “Who are you?” and pointed a Browning Buckmark .22 at his forehead. He said, “Whoa. Wrong room” and exited the door.]

Motel 4.

jump 7

While she is on hold with the highway patrol a message is left: “I know you’re Searching, looking, caring.”

I keep waiting for that gun to go off. He, she, we, it.

Motel 5.

A greasy Arkansas guy pleads, “Come on sell me just one beer, I’m from Arkansas.”

I’m from kick you ass.

A funny line, a tragi-comic scene, a couple trying to open their hotel deer with beer, steak, a potato…

Wait. Let’s go back, to shooting the wall, the bed. There are playful juxtapositions I admire. I like the idea of bleeding emotions into inanimate objects, into THINGS. Every bed is a poem. I wish someone would fire that gun.

[Aside. Poem of guys who won’t work but play good. This was Tennessee. Poem of watching my friend marry an Indian girl in the ballroom of a hotel. This was Atlanta. Poem of destroying the room like rock-stars. An expensive poem, Dallas. You ever been in jail in Dallas? That’s no song.]

Motel 6.

bed 3

The relatives call and say he broke in and peed on their bed and couldn’t

A German critic once said things need to go from Bad to Worse to Really Fucked up. Seems about right. Someone pees on your bed and that trigger finger must be itching.

Internal rhyme noted.

Sense pause noted.

There goes a cockroach and a scattered dreamscape.

Motel 7.

“Some they do, some they don’t.”

Indeed. They call it colloquial. It tugs you in, it characterizes, it shapes.

Motel 8.

No gunfire but…

He points a piece of his homemade elk jerky at her.

That’s a sort of pointing, sore of shooting gesture, sort of threat, I do suppose.

HERE IS WHERE I INTERVIEW A PHOTOGRAPHER

bed-bugs-bites

(bed bugs, Kansas, circa 1999)

Me: “You took the back photo of Stefanie Freele?”

Photographer: “Damn straight.”

Me: “Why do you have her smiling like that? All healthy glow. It doesn’t match the tone or atmosphere of the book.”

P: “Why does it have to? You have a small, provincial mind, don’t you?”

Me: “What does Provincial mean?”

KA-POW! The photographer pulls out a .38 and blows me away. (I fall out my chair at this funny angle [I mean dry humor funny], you should see my limbs all askew. I’m like a marionette with a handful of shiny folders.)

Look at that nasty floor!

Hell, I’m done.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Aching for Mango FriendsAching for Mango Friends

By Jacinta Galea’i
Tinfish Press, 2006
24 pp.
ISBN: 0-9759376-9-3
$10

Reviewed by Craig Santos Perez

In the 2000 US census, there were 133,680 reported Samoans living in America, with 10,607 residing in Washington State.Aching for Mango Friends, a chapbook excerpt of an as yet unpublished novel/poem by Jacinta Galea’i, weaves a coming-of-age story of two young girls, Semoana and Sa’ili, who emigrate from Samoa to live with their Aunty in Washington where they will receive a “good education.”

The form of Aching for Mango Friends utilizes a Samoan storytelling technique called “su’ifefiloi,” a series of linked vignettes. In a “Preface to the Samoan Novel” (published on TinFish’s website), Galea’i describes fellow Samoan writer Sia Figiel’s use of this form:

Su’ifefiloi is a combination of the words, su’i, meaning to sew or to weave and fefiloi, a descriptive word that means mixed. [Sia] Figiel points out that when Samoan composers need to write a long song for a special event, they string together many different kinds of songs to make one long, long song […] Figiel threads together Samoan and English and prose, poetry, songs, and even mythology to capture the voices of adolescent girls growing up in a traditional Samoan village.

Galea’i voices her “long, long song” through short vignettes that shift voice, time, and point of view. The stringing together of various formal strategies, such as prose “talk-story,” verse stanzas, and columned-stanzaic dialogues, continually questions and re-defines genre expectations.

“My Sweet Neipa,” the chapbook’s opening poem, portrays Semoana playing and picking fruit in Samoa with her friend Pele. It’s composed of a columned-stanzaic dialogue, each column representing a different voice; an impasse of space spines the page. The arrangement of text and space mimics the shape of an absent tree; the two voices ripen the branches of silence and reach toward the margins. The echoing text is an invocation, contouring the “aching” for lost friends and a faraway home.

To counterpoise this stanzaic interplay, Galea’i utilizes prose talk-story. The vignette titled “Grandma’s Corner” describes Semoana and Sa’ili’s flight from Samoa to Washington. Galea’i deftly captures the emotions of this trip without falling into flat sentimentality:

That’s why I’m sitting on this airplane next to my cousin Sa’ili, whose father, my father’s brother, also wants her to get a good education in America. Our airplane is in the air now, leaving Pago Pago International Airport, flying over the pua tree next to our blue house […]

We are flying over grandma’s village of Malaeovevesi there below with the tiny Catholic church that my mother’s family used to attend before Uncle Falefa joined the military and bought a house in the City of Chief Seattle. Today, my relatives follow my Grandma to a church in Seattle and dip their bread in red wine while Boeing 747s fly over Beacon Hill, I-5, and Mount Rainier […]

This is the place my mother always wanted us to come to because this is where her family’s past and future now lie. I hope to unpack her family history and squeeze it next to my education so that it becomes a part of me here in America.

Their migration transpires in the overwhelming, vanishing present tense. Galea’i intimately understands how distances are bridged by longing: the plane and the pua tree, the church in Malaeovevesi and the church in Seattle, her family’s past and future. The “here” in that last sentence signifies not only an arrival, but also a desire to plait a location that incorporates the various arrivals and resistant departures of cultural memory.

Complementing the navigation of her characters, Galea’i writes in an improvisational cross-stitching of Samoan and English. In this linguistic borderland, we enter a space where both languages interact in playful struggle. Returning to the Preface, Galea’i comments:

For I see a wrinkle in my mat—my step-tongue—English, o la’u gaganafai—is becoming distractive in weaving this Samoan mat. Ioe. It’s difficult to tell my story using my step-tongue, Ifilisi. So I will shift to su’ifefiloi, a voice that will unravel my step-tongue’s rules but better express my Samoan story. Se’i liugalua lo’u leo i le leo su’ifefiloi, ona e fefiloi ai mea uma. Su’ifefiloi threads my mother tongue into my step-tongue and my step-tongue into my mother tongue an will better describe Semoana’s world, her people, culture and identity.

The Samoan words and phrases in Aching for Mango Friends isn’t translated into English (nor is the English translated into Samoan). Since I don’t read Samoan, I can only guess at their meaning and trace their sounds. In a vignette, “Jill Didn’t Understand,” Galea’i addresses this issue through Semoana’s interaction with Jill, a new American friend:

Then Jill asks why Sa’ili and I speak Samoan when she is around. I look at Jill because I am confused. Jill stares at me. Then she says she doesn’t like it when we speak Samoan because when we giggle she feels left out. I look at Jill because I don’t know what else to do. So I say that we speak Samoan because we are Samoan. Then she asks why we have to giggle. I say we don’t have to giggle. Then why do you? Jill asks. I stare at Jill because I’m starting to feel upset. So I tell her speaking Samoan makes us giggle. Jill looks at the ground while I look at the sky. Then I ask Jill if she wants to learn Samoan but she shrugs her shoulders and looks away. So I say it is ok that I understand. Jill nods and says it is good that I understand.

Although some may read this as an exclusion, I read it as an intimate inclusion into another’s native space. Once I surrender the desire to translate, the untranslated naturalizes the foreignness of my relation to the characters. Semoana does not worry about others not understanding; instead, she speaks Samoan because she is Samoan, affirming that she needs to translate her cultural identity only to herself.

Often interacting translation and cross-cultural interaction’s serious moments, Aching for Mango Friends also portrays the humorous side of diasporic experience. In “Sa’ili Takes PE,” Sa’ili becomes incredulous when she learns that the students shower naked at the end of PE class. Her American friend, Michelle, reminds her that this is America and asks, “Don’t they have PE classes in Samoa?” Sa’ili responds:

Of course, they do! But it’s Samoan
PE. We run around the track wearing
whatever we wear to school – slippers
lavalava, long skirts, jeans, anything.
And if the sun is too hot, we sit under
the pulu tree and pretend we’re reading
our torn up health book […]

In Samoa, we shower together all the
time, but we wear our lavalava. But
that’s in Samoa. Now taking a shower
naked with you and them? I don’t
think so.

Galea’i allows us to laugh at the characters’ “mis-culturations,” creating a safe space for them to speak about being Samoan, and for us to share their giggles, mispronunciations, and memories.

In the final chapter titled “Sa’ili Returns Home,” Semoana is cleaning her Aunty’s house with her cousins. When they reach the attic, they find a collection of finely woven mats collecting dust. These mats, known as ‘ie toga,” hold an important place in Samoan tradition. Historically, they were made and controlled by women and took several years to complete (on average, they contain 12 specially prepared pandanus strips per inch, and range from six to eight feet square). They are considered a valuable gift at births, weddings, and funerals, and worn during important public events, given to honored guests, and presented in attempts at reconciliation and peace. Because of this rich history, Semoana feels surprised to see these treasured mats hidden:

We move all of Aunty’s Moni’s ie togas from the attic. Aunty has so many fine mats and Melia, Mareta, Initeria, and I sneeze, sneeze and sneeze from all the dust. Ua tiga matou isu I le pefu. Melia says Aunty should get rid of the ie toga–they take up space, breed dust, and have no value in America. Mareta says, the ie toga is Samoan money. Initeria says they connect us to our past. We all look at Melia and she looks back and says, Well, they don’t mean anything to me. If I live in America I will not store fine mats in the attic–because as Melia said, they create so much pefu–but I will find some place, a safe place to store them because the ie toga does connect us to our past, which becomes our future.

The social importance of the “ie toga” also lies in its living history: who made the mat? who owned and wore it? why was it exchanged? Although we are not given this information, I anticipate that it unfolds in the full-length version. Semoana’s discovery of the mats in the dusty attic provides a powerful commentary on the difficulty of maintaining one’s roots when uprooted. I imagine that Semoana will dust off the mats to learn their history and, in turn, her own history as she weaves her future into its design. In her Preface, Galea’i describes Aching for Mango Friends as a symbolic “ie toga”:

This is but one mat, so you will only witness its mamanu. But there are many, many more mats to be woven by Samoan weavers, both old and young […] Many, like me, who were swept away on the Pacific Moana currents and now live scattered throughout the United States, yet still rooted to the islands […] They too have mats, beautiful mats that will make us weep, laugh, and even suspicious about us, unusual people from the family of Samoa whose favorite thing to do in the entire lalolagi, the whole wide world, aside from thanking and worshipping God, is to laugh and laugh, then cry and laugh some more until the tears make use breathless, gasping for air.

Aching for Mango Friends presents a few exquisite strands of an “ie toga” woven from the threads of the Samoan diaspora. By weaving this mat, Galea’i invites us to witness this story and to write our own migrations. While the sentiment and humor in Galea’i’s book makes us weep and laugh, the interweaving of its formal experiments leaves us breathless. By reading this work as analogous to the making and sharing of an “ie toga,” we become its honored guests and are bound to find in our hearts a safe place to treasure such a precious gift.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Parts

By Molly Gaudry
Mud Luscious Press
Unpaginated

Reviewed by Ryan W. Bradley

Stories in verse, as a concept, are fairly amorphous. Abstract yet accessible. After all, literature (all of it) stems from them and the oral tradition. With this plethora of history, you’d think talking about modern stories in verse would be easy. Instead the discussion often becomes mired in debates about form. What is a prose poem, what’s the difference between a story in verse and a regular poem, when is a story a story? Each link of this chain is broader than the last. Have we yet asked when is writing writing? If not, we will soon.

Parts by Molly Gaudry is an excerpt of We Take Me Apart, her novella in verse due in December from Mud Luscious Press, and while, like any good writerly-nerd, I am intrigued by all the questions of form and content that so often plague discussions of “genre-confused” (for lack of a wittier description) work, I decided to simplify things and think of Gaudry’s piece in two ways: first, as a poem, and second, as a story.

Parts poetically fits into the grand tradition of the feminist canon, by which I mean to invoke the reclamation of the female gender as an identity, as it is so beautifully rendered in the work of Sylvia Plath, Adrienne Rich, Ellen Bass, and many others. Gaudry defines the femininity of her subject with an adept strokes that move from the women’s outer shell (their clothing) to their inner terrain (their bodies). She begins:

I began to produce several dresses a week &
in the making of them not a single flower
part was left out because every part has a function…

While the narrator’s gender remains ambiguous, Gaudry here has introduced the subject of gender with a single word, namely, “dresses”. Two stanzas later she writes, “for we are more than our parts,” letting the reader know, this poem isn’t just about what makes us or what separates us, it’s about the human condition, the ultimate muse of great poets. As the poem moves on, the parts of the flowers are given, acting in the absence of the what that is not given: the body. Gaudry, working almost the way a Soviet montage in film works, weaves images of the tailor putting dresses together with the flowers, these disparate images inferring different meanings, allowing open-ended interpretations:

I sewed buttons so that
those dresses would not come undone &
leave those women bare without their
wanting to be

This passage is followed up by the word “stalks”, a stanza unto itself, listing the next flower part, but also playing off the idea of a woman bared. Not a sexual image, but one of an identity having been stripped away. But in the end nothing is hidden from the tailor:

I like to think now of these
women in the moment of their undressing
fragmentary
ripe for fertilization

These final lines tie the whole piece together, bring us back to the beginning of the poem where Gaudry writes, “we are all of us more than our parts.” At the same time, though there is the feeling that though we may be more, there is no escaping our parts, just as the flower cannot shed its petals without remaining a flower. And though this assertion is humbling, and possibly, given your mood, morose, it is also comforting, especially to the tailor, one can assume, as he or she clearly finds solace in his or her occupation which only exists because of the parts in the first place.

In a story one must look at plot or at the very least the arc from the beginning to the end. What happens, where does the story take you as a reader? Parts, ostensibly, is about a tailor, working on a dress detailed with flowers, reflecting o what they mean to the women who wear them. The tailor likes to

think of these women sitting
cross-ankled on park benches thinking of
their ovaries

We are, of course, drawn back to reflect on gender, but not in a banal way, as the next stanza reads:

I liked to think of these women thinking of
how to decrease the contamination of their
ovaries

The women in the tailor’s imagination are not concerned with the latest fashions, with reality television shows, or making babies. They are concerned with the health of their womanhood, as represented here by their ovaries. Fertilization is a pervasive theme in Parts, as the word is used once for every two pages of the chapbook. But here it is a source of conflict. As the tailor sees the women as “ripe for fertilization” he or she also feels the need to give the women shelter:

I made
hidden pockets because every woman
should have a place to hide her personals

While she clearly sees the utilitarian view of fertilization, the tailor wants to give women protection, a way to secrete themselves from the world if need be.

More than anything, Parts, as a story, is a learning process. A character study. The reader is given a chance to learn how the tailor’s mind works, how he or she views the world. And ultimately this is what makes the excerpt a teaser. By the time you finish reading the beautiful poetry of Parts and have begun investing in the tailor, wanting the story to bloom in full, you realize you have to wait until December to have it in your hands and then consume it wholly.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Put Your Head in My LapPut Your Head in My Lap

By Claudia Smith
Future Tense Books
ISBN-10: 1-892061-36-8
ISBN-13: 978-1-892061-36-2

Reviewed by Molly Gaudry

The sixteen short-short stories in Claudia Smith’s Put Your Head in My Lap(Future Tense Books, 2009) convey such tenderness it’s difficult not to develop a big-ass lump in my throat, the kind that causes tears to well and fall. This is a collection to read alone, wrapped in a blanket beside a crackling fire, a steaming cup of tea nearby. But beware: anyone who’s experienced heartbreak will relive that sorrow, those losses. Proceed, however, and be brave. Your reward is to discover prose that resonates with simplicity, prose that prompts aching and, subsequently, hope. You will want to reach for someone dear; you will want to dial up an old friend and catch up, someone whose voice once soothed. This is the complication in Smith’s writing: her words remind us of our pain, but the pain reminds us, inspires us, to reconcile with that, or those, we have lost.

In “Submarine Dreams,” a mother says, simply, “We came here a year ago. I was hopeful.” An obvious, but unstated, divorce later, she closes this story with the lines: “My son sleeps with me now. I sing to him, Mariposa, sweet dreams, butterfly, close your eyes.” And when she asks, “It’s a bad pattern to set, isn’t it?” I’m not sure whether she’s addressing us or her departed husband. “Good luck,” she sings, because her son “gets scared, dreaming, at night.” In the next story, “Valentine,” the narrator recalls how she and an unnamed “you” first fell in love; after falling “asleep together on the floor,” she kisses her lover’s forehead. She says, “I did it suddenly and softly, startling myself,” and I, too, am startled by her admission. It seems so natural, that kiss. And yet, it “was like touching the wings of a creature you couldn’t see but knew to be beautiful simply from the feel.” What she does next is just as startling: “I stood up and walked out of the apartment, down the stairs, into the street. It was cold and I wasn’t wearing a coat, but I kept walking anyway, thinking I couldn’t go back there because you’d be gone.”

A fiction professor once told me—and this is some of the best advice I’ve ever received—that physical objects in a story are best utilized when they pull double, or even triple, duty. What he meant was that though a coat can just be a coat, when it actually means something more than that, magic is born. The triple duty, or the magic, of the coat in “Valentine” is that while it is dormant back at the apartment, beyond reach, its presence tells us something about this narrator—that she’s willing to go without it, despite the chill, because the physical consequences are nothing compared to the emotional; to return to her apartment, to find the object of her affection gone, will leave her more bare than she already is, and the idea and fear of such exposure is something she’s unwilling, just yet, to face. It’s interesting, then, that this particular story opens with the line, “You once gave me an apple off a tree, and I thought about its significance, and wondered if you meant something by that, or if you were just handing me an apple.” An apple, a coat, a sleeping son: in Smith’s careful hands, they are more than anything we’ve ever encountered; they are precious cargo, worthy of quiet meditation and further exploration.

In the next story, “Half,” the unnamed narrator wears a locket her mother-in-law gave her; inside the locket, her husband’s black hair. She says, “I wore the locket at all times, even when I took a shower. I thought about the thin layer of gold between his lock and the flesh on my collarbone.” A locket, hair, a collarbone: again, the familiarity of such physical objects is recast in such a way that readers can’t help but ponder their symbolic meanings; again, Smith’s words—their simplicity, their frankness, the magic of their admissions, their very utterances—become more than words; they become experiences, revealed to us. And are we worthy? When else have we been entrusted with so much? I can’t say I’ve ever felt such a connection to a writer’s (dare I say?) soul.

In “Marks,” a woman learns the meaning of what it is to be touched, to be the one who does the touching. The father of her child has “a strawberry mark behind his left shoulder. When she traces it, he stands up and goes to lie down on the stone floor in the bathroom. She watches him through the opened door.” The door here—a physical object that can be opened or closed—is, while open, closed. The threshold is impassable. Her touch has gone, worse than unnoticed, unwanted, and, from worse to worst, even after they have had sex; and all she can do is continue to watch him until, when “he falls asleep, she leaves and looks in on their child.” It is up to us to learn the meaning of a touch, and when we read that she “would like to touch the whorl on the back of his head, but it would wake him,” there is only a deep sense of loss, something unexplainably clear: this is what it is to want to reach out, this is what it is to stop yourself.

I can feel my throat tightening now. Who wouldn’t? Fitting, then, that the collection’s final story, “Ice,” opens with this: “They will break one another’s hearts—well, at least, he will break hers, she’s not sure now about his.” And having read the other stories in the meantime, we, too, can’t help but be unsure about his, though we do know the fate of hers. Which is why, I’m sure, I opened this review with the word “tenderness.” If these aren’t prime examples, I don’t know what else I can offer in my desperate urging that will compel you to buy this chapbook. It is required reading for any human being; perhaps, more specifically, any woman whose life hasn’t quite turned out the way she hoped it would at some youthful age when she was freshly scrubbed and innocent. We may still be freshly scrubbed, but the scrubbing, over the years, will have certainly taken on a different purpose: no longer to cleanse but to cast away the sorrows of our past and present lives. Claudia Smith understands this; and I can’t help but think it’s because she’s been there. So tonight, wrapped in a blanket, I will raise my cup of tea to her and hope that as I blow away steam, so too will I blow away her hurt, if only for even a moment.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

And the Weary Are at RestAnd the Weary Are at Rest

Poems by Andrew Taylor
5″ x 8″, hand-stitched
32 pages
ISBN 978-1-934513-10-1
$8
Release date: June 12, 2008

Reviewed by J. A. Tyler

From “Catalf”:

Things will never be the same
again light will angle differently
cold will eat summer

Gone my friend grief will make her heart burst

Can we go on like this with our hearts tied to the land?

Andrew Taylor’s collection And the Weary Are at Rest is a silken thread tying life and death together, bringing circles to their beginnings and revisiting the stages that so commonly wage in us during all the tragic and deathly moments we face. These are poems as seasons, poems as emotional states of being, poems as living.

These poems break at unusual and odd moments, going against the natural reading rhythm we have for poetry, as if to say that the words themselves go against the conventions of phrasing as death goes against the vibrancy of life. When it feels like a line will break, it does not, and via this simple maneuver Taylor keeps a reader earnestly connected to each and every sentence.

From “Wish the World Away”:

Suburban commuter train 7.55
sudden thrash amidst the calm
blackbird flies crashes into closed doors
lays there stunned and frozen
beak opens weakly

Mindful of departure time nobody
moves I feel a sickness rise as
eventually a woman cups
soft hands carefully around the bird and
lays it carefully to rest.

Taylor also layers nearly every poem here with intimations of temperature or scent, environment or sound, weaving a sensory experience beneath the narrative lines and contextual elements of each text. So this too, like the curious breaks in phrasing, keeps us awake within this lulling exploration of life and death, this calm and impressionistic painting of how it is that we continue.

From “To the Bone”:

The smell that lingers
and nestles on my neck
seems age old or is
it just familiarity explored
after years of silence

Am I to enjoy the silence
or immerse myself in an
uneasiness that lies deep
within

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: