Posted By admin / 9th April 2013
In this interview series, Monkeybicycle intern David Cotrone will introduce you to a variety of small press editors and publishers.
This interview was conducted with Cynthia Reeser of Aqueous Books.
Monkeybicycle: When was Aqueous Books founded? What prompted you to want to start it?
Cynthia Reeser: I started Aqueous Books in January 2010 in part as a response to the overflow of long-form fiction I received at Prick of the Spindle (at that time we were accepting up to novella-length work for the online edition of the journal), which made me realize how many deserving manuscripts go unpublished in part because of the publisher : manuscript ratio. There are only so many publishers, and so many, many more manuscripts. I was reading a lot about publishing at the time and where it was headed because I was intrigued by it and I was also writing a book on publishing, and I knew that literary agents and publishers were flooded with manuscripts, many of which they had to turn away, even though deserving, because one company or agent can only take on so much work. (Ironically, Aqueous Books closed to submissions rather quickly after opening its doors, and we are now booked out with manuscripts–publishing one book per month–through 2016.) Because Prick of the Spindle is founded on the principle that deserving work should be published regardless of its author’s credentials or experience or affiliation or prior publications, it seemed only natural to create a venue for those longer-form manuscripts. Aqueous Books publishes novellas, short stories, memoirs, essay collections, and novels. It is also true that the idea for Aqueous Books hit me out of the clear blue sky; I had considered before, in passing, starting a publishing company, but had no real plans to do so, but then the entire package of the idea for the company fell on me all at once, right down to the details of the logo, so I knew it was time to make it happen. I felt I had an obligation to myself and to others to do it.
Mb: At the time, why was Aqueous–and why is it still–necessary?
CR: For all the reasons I mention above; we provide an avenue of publication for any manuscript, regardless of whether its author is a high school dropout digging ditches for a living or an Ivy League graduate making six figures a year working for a Fortune 500 company. All we care about is the quality of the work. We also produce a high quality product for every one of our books and afford them all the same value.
Mb: What about Aqueous Books are you most proud of?
CR: The fact that I started it from absolutely nothing as a single mother of two during one of the hardest times of my life. I had a computer, an internet connection, and the balls of Annie Oakley. Not to mention some editing and graphic design know-how under my hat. So with that and little else, I made it work, and now, a lot of our books are being reviewed by Publishers Weekly and ForeWord Reviews. I couldn’t be prouder.
Mb: What do you look for when you’re open for submissions? What makes a project or manuscript worth taking on?
CR: My answer to both of those questions is simple: potential. That can mean that a book has potential but needs a little editing help, but in the end, the result is a quality piece of writing that lives up to its author’s vision.
Mb: What does “indie” or “small press” mean to you? What do you think of such classifications and distinctions?
CR: To many, “indie” and “small press” are one in the same. However, I think of indie as just what it means–independent. Someone or several running a press by their own hard work and dedication. We’re a small press too, but not all small presses are indie. Some small presses are affiliated with institutions like colleges or universities or writing centers or other programs, and receive their funding through those sources. As far as what I think about such classifications and distinctions, labels and categories will always be there, regardless, and to an extent, they are useful, like genus and species are useful in the naming of things.
Mb: What sets your books apart from the rest?
CR: All of our books are edited to be their very best, and all are literary. We produce quality literature. I don’t think every publisher of fiction can say that. I don’t take on anything that is too commercial or just because I think it will sell, only books that have strong literary value.
Mb: What’s your favorite part of your job?
CR: Probably the graphic/cover design. I love to make art…that’s the fun part. Editing is more of a chore, but I do it as my profession, so it feels like work, but it’s also second nature.
Mb: For you, why are books so important?
CR: Books are a record of humanity and the human experience. I like to think that they will still live on as a record of our present experiences for future generations. Whether those future generations are thousands of years apart from us, I like to picture people of a different time and cultural experience imagining themselves in our now, and also learning from their past, which is our present. Books in that sense are records, timekeepers. A collective cultural history.
Mb: What other small presses do you admire? Why?
CR: Graywolf for their dedication to literature, even though they may be more of a mid-sized publisher. Sunnyoutside for their production values and their beautiful books which are sometimes like art objects. There are others but those are the two that stand out.
Mb: Do you have hope for the future of books?
CR: Absolutely, insofar as I have hope for the human race.
David Cotrone is from Plymouth, MA. His writing appears in Fifty-Two Stories, The Rumpus, PANK, Paper Darts, Necessary Fiction, Thought Catalog, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, and elsewhere. You can find him at www.davidcotrone.com.
Posted By admin / 26th February 2013
In this interview series, Monkeybicycle intern David Cotrone will be introduces you to a variety of small press editors and publishers.
This interview was conducted with Erin McKnight of Queen’s Ferry Press.
Monkeybicycle: When was Queen’s Ferry Press founded? What prompted you to want to start it?
Erin McKnight: Queen’s Ferry Press opened its doors to submissions August 1, 2011. As a new mother, I discovered that all of the emotions I’d felt for books as a child came roaring back as I immersed myself in long-forgotten texts; Enid Blyton reignited a dream I’d carried for years. Tending a baby and a press, as it turns out, is congruous.
Mb: At the time, why was Queen’s Ferry—and why is it still—necessary?
EM: My goal was—and remains—for the press to fill a void by publishing only collections of fiction. I’d like for Queen’s Ferry to serve as the venue for eclectic groupings of fine literary fiction.
Mb: What about Queen’s Ferry Press are you most proud of?
EM: Unquestionably our authors. I’m proud that the writers whose work I read and admire think enough of the press to submit their manuscripts—and enough of me to publish their writing! I like to believe that the resulting books represent these authors well, as highly as I regard them.
Mb: What do you look for when you’re open for submissions? What makes a project or manuscript worth taking on?
EM: Quality. Maturity. Confidence. If I find that as I’m reading I am also thinking about how I’d describe the book on its back cover, I’m decided. The manuscripts worth taking on are the ones that I can imagine myself reading and enjoying quite literally hundreds of times.
Mb: What does “indie” or “small press” mean to you? What do you think of such classifications and distinctions?
EM: One word springs to mind: passion. Passionate writers, publishers, and a readership that celebrates this driving force.
Mb: What sets your books apart from the rest?
EM: Although Queen’s Ferry focuses on collections, I like to think of the press’s catalog as suggesting a coherence yet also achieving singularity.
Mb: What’s your favorite part of your job?
EM: Holding a book that was once a manuscript. Saccharine, perhaps, but after countless hours of work it is its own reward.
Mb: For you, why are books so important?
EM: Without trying to sound too esoteric, I think books tell us about ourselves: the selves we were; the selves we want to be. Books keep us in touch with . . . us.
Mb: What other small presses do you admire? Why?
EM: Mud Luscious Press. Dzanc Books (and imprints). Dancing Girl Press. Rose Metal Press. Firewheel Editions. Tyrant Books. I could go on and on. These are some of the presses putting out books that I am anxious to read, and as a publisher I seek to emulate.
Mb: Do you have hope for the future of books?
EM: I do—in this business one has to preserve the hope that people will keep reading! I’d like to see books valued as objects worthy of owning, dare I say collecting?
Mb: Please share anything else you would like to say.
EM: Thank you for this inclusion—your attention humbles Queen’s Ferry.
David Cotrone is from Plymouth, MA. His writing appears in Fifty-Two Stories, The Rumpus, PANK, Paper Darts, Necessary Fiction, Thought Catalog, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, and elsewhere. You can find him at www.davidcotrone.com.
Posted By jatyler / 5th October 2012
interview /// Goat in the Snow by Emily Pettit
Emily Pettit is the author of Goat in the Snow (Birds, LLC) as well as two chapbooks How (Octopus Books) and What Happened to Limbo (Pilot Books). She is an editor for notnostrums and Factory Hollow Press, as well as the publisher of jubilat. She teaches at Flying Object.
MB: One element of Goat in the Snow that struck me within the first few poems (and carried through the entire collection as well) was the subtle use of slant rhyme and word repetition, making many of the poems in this collection doubly forceful. For example, from ‘How to be Responsible’:
You breathe out of order. It doesn’t totally suck.
It staggers. It’s not like being a hook.
It’s more like being a hook ladder.
Like the silence that sometimes accompanies the
unexpected. What are your ears hearing?
I mean move over falling days,
I am attempting to be responsible.
Can you talk to us about your use of these tactics?
EP: I love slant rhyme and I love repetition. I love letting sound be loud. Or be quiet.
MB: A majority of the poems in this book are titled using ‘how to’ phrases – ‘How to Throw Things Around’, ‘How to Make No Noise’, ‘How to Build a Fire in the Snow’ – is this a commentary on poetry as a tool, what it can or can’t do, or is there some other function for titling so much of Goat in the Snow this way?
EP: My HOW TO titles are not a commentary on poetry as a tool. I certainly can talk and think about poetry as a tool. Though while doing so, perhaps good to be careful. The HOW TO titles come from my delight and comfort when engaged with instruction.
MB: Goat in the Snow is divided into three sections, and although these three movements have many similarities, the second section seems noticeably more curt or direct in its phrasing – leaning even towards lists at some points, as in ‘How to Start a Fire Without Sticks’:
Get up. Get up and pretend your head isn’t full
of tiny broken sticks. It will be worth it to walk
through the door such a complicated mess,
crazy to such purpose. One way to torture a person
who is sleep deprived is to pretend the house is on
fire. Look very serious and say, Fire! Fire! Fire!
Can you explain a bit about how you assembled this collection, and how you came to divide the book into these cohesive and yet distinct sections?
EP: If the sections do indeed feel cohesive and yet distinct, then I am very pleased and yet unable to articulate very well my thoughts regarding assembly. I put the book on the floor. All over the floor. So I could see every poem. Not every page, but every poem. I then let my eyes lead me to looking at and knowing how poems might work together in close proximity to one another. Dean Young, my thesis advisor had advised me to put my book in sections for the simple reason that it would allow for a little highlighting, particularly of the poems that begin and end each section. I decided it was worth seeing what might happen if the book took on this structure and then upon became attached to seeing the book look this way.
MB: Animals and rural scenes / settings abound in the contemporary lit scene, and Goat in the Snow has a wealth of its own animals: goat, mongoose, duck, owl, rooster, elephant, moose, dinosaur, horse, wasp, etc. How did these animals get in there, and will it always be a part of your poetic process?
EP: These animals are here where I live. I am looking at three elephants. Earlier today I saw a mouse. But not in my house! At a school where I teach. But not inside. Outside! Goats often visit my mother’s house. My mother lives close by. My mother lives where I grew up, in an old farmhouse in Amherst, Massachusetts. There have been boats and bears in our yard. The boat fell off a truck and into our yard. The bears came from the woods. The woods are everywhere. So are the bears. The other day I saw so many turkeys! At least once a week I drive by the Dinosaur Museum. Where aren’t there wasps? When I was super little we had two horses. One was named Thunder and the other Lightening. I hope and think I need animals to be a part of my life for my entire life and as long as they are, I imagine them in my poems.
MB: If the titular poem ‘Goat in the Snow’ is the crux of this collection, in particular these ending stanzas:
we will repeat over and over again.
I said, I want to be a fly on the wall.
Someone said, Be a goat in the snow.
We like to think of shipwrecks
as beautiful fuck-ups
and that goats’ eyes are the secret to goats.
I think if I had a soul it would be saying soul.
To move quietly past a fence without hesitation
is what a goat does.
What does the fence represent?
EP: A fence.
Purchase a copy of Goat in the Snow here, & read more from / about Emily Pettit here.
Posted By jatyler / 8th August 2012
You Are Jaguar is the first release from Artistically Declined Press’s new Twin Antlers imprint, is co-authored by Ryan W. Bradley and David Tomaloff, and is a book that is at once two poetry collections and yet also a third, divided and receded and left up to the reader to read in the way the reader wants. So perhaps, to clarify this all, it is best that these co-authors tell us what You Are Jaguar means, does, wants:
MB: You Are Jaguar’s preface “A Guide to Reading” explains:
Two writers enter. It is a sort of birth. Begun with a phrase, simple enough, an affirmation uttered by a three year old. Now a bible of collaboration. Lines are swapped in twos, and on, until poems are born. More poems. / Then, when the poems have been birthed there is retreat. Two writers divide, recede. / They call this editing. Each edits the poems on their own. Each puts names to the work of two. Two writers reconvene. Compare. Contrast.
Can you tell us how this process started, how it worked when all was said and done, and what this did for your individual writing, to work in such a distinctly collaborative way?
RWB: I originally stole the process from the collaborative collection that Jack Driscoll & Bill Meissner wrote, Twin Sons of Different Mirrors (Milkweed Editions, 1993). They exchanged two lines at a time through the mail. I’d been looking for a while for someone to try this approach with. I like to challenge myself, take my writing in directions I wouldn’t normally. When David was game, we started exchanging two lines at a time through email. The poems came really quickly. And I think we found a groove with each other almost right off the bat. I think our individual edits is where we really explored our personal aesthetics. I don’t know that it changed my individual writing but it made me even hungrier for collaboration.
DT: For me, the project feels almost mythical at this point, as if it has always been—something unearthed and unfolded that two people have written their names on and sent into the world. I mean this in the best possible way regarding its transparency.
Ryan’s concept arrived unexpectedly to me in a late night email. The basis was simple and never deviated from during the process: poems exchanged two lines at a time under the title You Are Jaguar. It was decided at some point that we would both edit individually and that the final manuscript would be built of the best parts of those edits.
There was little to no discussion regarding character, narrative, content, or form. Each set of lines grew from the lines (and eventually on the themes) that came before. Interestingly, the manuscript was written to blend absolutely as a single voice, which made me more aware of some of the habits I might normally lean on as part of my style, both in terms of word choice and visual format.
I wouldn’t say this has directly changed my writing, but what I’d probably mean is just that I’m not sure exactly how it has manifested itself. One thing the project has reaffirmed for me without a doubt is that some of the most fruitful collaborations often come from artists whose individual works share almost nothing in common beyond the desire to create something larger than themselves.
MB: In particular, the “you” / “I” could function in You Are Jaguar as a call and response between two authors, between the text and its subject, between fathers and sons – but we want to know what it means to each of you – will you indulge us?
RWB: I have often been told not to write “you” in my poems, but it feels natural. Poetry is deeply personal for me. It is between me and the reader, and I don’t hesitate to acknowledge that. I want readers to feel like I am talking to them. In this case, it wasn’t always intentional, but I felt in doing so it was also an acknowledgement that David and I were having a conversation. I did sense that paternal thread as well, but I don’t feel like a father or son to David and imagine he doesn’t feel so about me. But the poems certainly have that feel, as though there is an unwitting wisdom being passed. The collection gets its name from something my 3 year old son told me, and it felt like an affirmation, I think that’s the thread we tried to honor throughout.
DT: As Ryan has implied, I think there was an unsaid intention to honor a sort of family element as the “us” and “we” and the “you” and “I” throughout, based on the source of the title. Ryan is indeed a father, no doubt struggling with what that means in terms of bridging a past (being a son) with a future (raising a son, in this case). This is an interesting example of how our work and perspectives differ: I am not a father, nor do I have intentions of becoming one in this life, so it follows that such a deeply paternal perspective doesn’t often surface in my own work. Responding to that in Ryan’s presented, at first, a challenge in finding common ground for the sake of sincerity and integrity—I didn’t want simply to play along. I drew instead from the idea that, while I may not be a father, I am a son, and I find there is still a need to bridge the past with the future. In this way, I would say that Ryan and I were indeed having a conversation.
Beyond the familiar aspect of the project, and bridging into my own work, the “I” “you” “us” and “we” are so often ubiquitous for me. There is always an I and a you, always an us and a we, and there is such an ever-increasing threat of damage—whether the relationship is between a person and a person, a person to many, or man to environment, sprit, or sense of self.
MB: In Bradley’s poem “The Union, Forever”, there is this phrase:
where then is the skin / we peeled from one another
How close is this to your experience(s) in the collaboration of You Are Jaguar?
RWB: This poem is one of my favorites from the book. When we were editing and titling the poems on our own for some reason it reminded me of Citizen Kane and subsequently The White Stripes. Both of these felt apt. Citizen Kane is a film about a man who spends his life trying to fill a void in his life. The White Stripes are a duo who spent their time together exploring the boundaries of what a duo can do with a simplistic structure of rock and roll. We worked from an abstract affirmation and all affirmations are meant to fill voids. Being told we are smart or beautiful. These things fill an emptiness. Being told you are a jaguar fills a void, too. And I think David and I truly embraced the dual aspect of collaboration, exploring where we could push one another.
DT: In terms of the peeling of skin as a group of words that imply in themselves a baring of many subsequent lesser-guarded layers, I would say that phrase delivers as an apt descriptor. Where it probably falls short, however, is that the question of “where” is answered in the form of a physical thing: You Are Jaguar.
It’s worth noting that, while the two-manuscripts-in-one are headed by individual names, each carries equally the words of both—translated, tweaked, and edited from a voice that now feels to me as if it exists beyond them. I thought at the beginning that the surreal nature of my own words would be apparent next to the often more immediately tangible words that Ryan tends to produce. I would be hard pressed now to identify the author of many of those lines.
MB: Also, can you talk to us a little about how this new imprint came about, and how You Are Jaguar came to be its first title?
RWB: It’s an idea I’ve had for a while. I like collaborative works, they can be transcending in a way other writing isn’t. Again the idea was inspired by Twin Sons of Different Mirrors. When David and I were about ten poems in I knew the project had legs. I didn’t know anyone else personally who had a collaborative manuscript, so I thought it would be a great way to start the imprint. And I think, inherently, the imprint will be very sporadic and selective, but hopefully it will also provide a home for collections where two writers have challenged one another in new and unique ways.
DT: It was said, and so then it was done. All I can add is that I’m proud to have been a part of the launch.
MB: Lastly, what is next for the both of you? New projects, new books, new published work?
RWB: I’ve just started an interesting new collaboration (through old school mail!) with one of my favorite poets, and David and I are slowly starting a follow up to You Are Jaguar. In December, Maverick Duck Press will publish my chapbook, Crushing on a Ghost and February will bring The Waiting Tide from Curbside Splendor’s new imprint, Concepcion Books. I wrote the collection as an homage to Neruda’s The Captain’s Verses. I also have stories in a few forthcoming anthologies. Other than that it’s all manuscripts in the ether trying to find homes.
DT: Certainly there is a follow-up planned to You Are Jaguar, which I hope will expand on the established themes in deeper and even more interesting ways. Beyond that, I have manuscripts in need of finishing as well a couple floating around. I’m less a man of plans, and more a man of short-term jollies, I guess, so there are a number of pieces and parts coming out in some excellent journals, including a few things related more to my interests in photography and visual art.
Artistically Declined Press has already put out some great literature, and this Twin antlers imprint is another venture that seems geniusly founded and ready to light fires. Kudos to Ryan W. Bradley and David Tomaloff for writing such a thing as this jaguar, and for allowing us to get into our own jaguar skins. Pick up a copy of You Are Jaguar here, read more from Ryan W. Bradley here, & read more from David Tomaloff here.
Posted By jatyler / 2nd July 2012
As the inaugural novella from Housefire Publishing, Joseph Riippi’s A Cloth House has much to live up to: Housefire is known for wild and wooly writing, some of the most lividly honest literature appearing online, and now they’ve jumped the fence to print ventures, first releasing the anthology Nouns of Assemblage which was immediately lauded as a bright star in a newly formed sky. So A Cloth House sets our expectations for where Housefire Publishing can go with single-author titles, what it can do, how smartly it can burn. And Riippi’s writing does live up to these expectations, absolutely and with gusto, and he is kind enough here to let us take some questioning stabs at his authorly presence.
MB: I’m sure our audience would love to know how it was working with Housefire Publishing – what was the editorial process like, how much did the manuscript change from acceptance to publication, and so far, how has the release been for A Cloth House?
JR: The Houseburners are a spectacular group, and working with them has been an absolute pleasure. They’re smart, passionate, creative—everything you want in a publisher.
A Cloth House was solicited by Riley Michael Parker about 14 months before its release, as one of what was set to be a series of Housefire novellas. I’d had a story in Housefire’s first print release, the anthology Nouns of Assemblage, and Riley sent me a few prompts to see if I’d be interested in doing something longer. Prompts are a big part of how Housefire does things—each month Lindsay Allison Ruoff and Robert Duncan Gray put up new submission guidelines for the online journal, typically a title and a few accompanying form/content challenges. For the book, I had a few title choices (none of which were A Cloth House) and a few rules (none of which weren’t somehow broken in the final piece). But the prompts got me going. Which I think is the point.
Little changed in the edits. I got a little adverb happy in places, yes, and there were chronology issues I definitely needed another reader to sort out. That sort of thing. The substantial change of note came from Kira Clark, who did the bulk of the editing. She suggested fleshing out the childhood friend of the narrator. At the time he was only half-mentioned in a kind of list of remembered things. Two of my favorite stanzas in the book came out of that suggestion, and I’m forever grateful to Kira for that.
As for how the release has been so far, it’s been delightful. I’m looking forward to getting the electronic version ready this summer, and we’re already looking at a third printing, which wholly exceeded my expectations.
MB: In a previous work like The Orange Suitcase, the writing was based more in a vein of realism – chronological, detailed, narrative driven – but with A Cloth House surrealism takes hold, creating an image laden story. Was this a conscious decision, to turn / twist your style in this way? And was it difficult or easy to follow this style through A Cloth House?
JR: It’s funny, because while I completely understand that this book’s much different from The Orange Suitcase, but it came very much from the same memory-y place. The difference, I think, is that the Suitcase used a kind of “realism” that was mostly straightforward sentences and a disdain for adverbs. I wanted hard, tangible descriptions of memories in that book. But with A Cloth House I wanted a voice actively remembering, a language more fluid rather than chiseled. And I think the result, though still built on a simple, straightforward story, works much more like memory does, scattered and surreally, with a lot of adverbs.
I’m not certain of why I wanted to do that. But yes, it was a conscious change from one to the next. And while it was an easy decision, it’s been hard to do. In the next book I’ve been trying to push it in even further, to find a narrator who can make memory malleable, mold it, re-remember.
MB: And if I’m not mistaken, you’ve been hitting towns far and wide to promote this novella. Where have you gone so far, and where can people find you in the coming months if they want to hear some live readings of A Cloth House?
JR: When I first started writing seriously, my highest goal—the “if I can do that, I’ve made it” goal—was to have a book in the window of Powell’s City of Books in Portland, Oregon. I not only got to see that with The Orange Suitcase this past March, but got to read at the podium there. (Thank you, Kevin Sampsell, for giving me that). In terms of travelling, I made a Seattle/Portland trip just after AWP in Chicago, and then did a few readings in New York City this spring, including the amazing Franklin Park Reading Series, which I’ve wanted to do for a couple years now. (Thank you, too, Penina Roth, for including me). Just recently I was in Hudson, NY at Chloe Caldwell’s series, and will be at Le Poisson Rouge in NYC with InDigest Magazine on June 13.
I did a lot more travelling for The Orange Suitcase, but haven’t had quite so much time off work this year to do the same. Hopefully for the next book.
MB: You’ve also recently released a new chapbook called Treesisters from Carl Annarummo’s amazing Greying Ghost Press. Can you tell us a little about this?
JR: I love Greying Ghost Press. The books are hand-made artifacts that, when you order one (at bargain prices) you not only get the book you ordered, but also any of a number of pamphlets and other print ephemera. It’s really something.
Treesisters came about as a rather long poem I wrote for Melissa Broder’s reading series here in New York. Ten readers were each assigned a song from Radiohead’s Kid A, and I drew “Treefingers.” I decided the best way to write something based on an instrumental song was to write about sisters in a tree doing sign language.
Greying Ghost’s submission period started a couple weeks after the reading, so off it went, and a year later, I got a box of letter-pressed beauties in the mail.
MB: What else is on the horizon for you? What new projects are you working on and where can we get a taste of them?
JR: The book after A Cloth House has been done for a bit now, called Research: A Novel for Performance. It’s a simultaneous translation—half the script of an off-off-broadway play that ran in New York last year, and half the prose “translation” of the script. My agent and I worked on it for a while and it’s just gone out to a few publishing houses—I’m hoping to find an editor as excited about formal translation as I am.
After that, there’s Because, a short novel I just finished—I think—last week. I’ve been buried in it for a couple months so it’s hard to speak about it at all well.
Lastly, I’ve been trying to write a big ol’ war novel for a while. I started it before The Orange Suitcase, actually. But each time I get into it I go for about ten or twenty thousand words before I have to start over. Maybe I’m not cut out for writing a hundred thousand words. But someday I’ll finish it, and in the meantime a few pieces of it have trickled out: here and here
A Cloth House is really a phenomenal read, a tight and interwoven novella that not only proves the worth and future value of Housefire Publishing but also gives Joseph Riippi an even broader hold in our contemporary lit scene, and should widen his already large readership. But don’t take our word for it – get yourself a copy of A Cloth House here, & read more from / about Joseph Riippi here.
Posted By jatyler / 18th June 2012
Part of the charm of Michael J. Seidlinger’s The Sky Conducting is how the curt and direct writing style – short phrases, pulses of language – is mixed with the novel’s apocalyptic setting. So many books about world-end tend toward the grimmest details, a constant rain of horror and devastation, but Seidlinger instead humanizes his Armageddon, wrapping it in family, in homes remembered, and as such it becomes a book that is easy to hold on to and wonderfully sad to read.
MB: The Sky Conducting heavily relies on reflections of comfort, on humanizing loss. For instance:
The daughter gazed out the window watching nothing and seeing nothing. The rubble impersonated routine life but it wasn’t the same.
The nuclear family had this home.
This home still felt like home. The daughter disagreed. The home died the moment America suffered a heart attack.
Can you talk to us a little about the importance of ‘family’ and ‘home’ in this novel?
MJS: Around the time The Sky Conducting became more than just something in the back of my mind, slowly forming into a stack of ideas and “what-ifs,” I found myself intimidated with how, exactly, to approach something involving the death of America without it literally being about America’s death. I mean, it’s natural to pick at the hypocritical aspects of a nation but most of us already do that on a daily basis. I wasn’t really interested in writing a narrative about road-warrior style survival groups pillaging for food and shelter. There’s this momentum in post-apocalyptic fiction that typically hinges the aftermath to an adventure that’s immediately physical – the impulses and urges, instincts, and imperatives for survival becoming the impetus for most narrative conflicts – however, with The Sky Conducting, I wanted to focus on something closer, more intimate and fixated on the trauma of the everyday citizen.
So if the adventure isn’t physical, it is relocated into the search, and stress test, of something else. This “something else” I wished to be American values. One of America’s most important cultural creations is the concept of “the nuclear family.” Both home and family are constants, pillars of a human being’s need to belong, but our culture turned these constants into something so expected they’re like the obligatory free bread, or chips-and-salsa, at the start of a meal at the average restaurant establishment. We expect these constants to be there, as-is, whether we attain to have them, need them, or not. Every single one of us can fit into one of the four prototypical American nuclear family roles; together we are all daughters and sons, mothers and fathers. The manifestation of the “nuclear family” helped propel the image of the idyllic the happy family” and the safe, quiet, and cozy home into something as easily distinguishable and sought-after as any business or image of success. The concept of the nuclear family is treated with the same care as a business. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that “the nuclear family” is a business.
Wherever we look, the nuclear family plays its part as a step in the ladder the modern American climbs to reach the American Dream, that dream of financial and familial harmony. Even if we don’t intend on pursuing it, we find ourselves chasing some fractured idea of the American Dream. Stripping all of that away, leaving only the nuclear family in a jarring and devastated land, I wanted to take the nuclear family and explore how home and family transform to remain true constants in the characters’ lives.
MB: Personification is also a staple of The Sky Conducting, particularly that of ‘America’ and other countries:
Many countries have died. Countries are people too.
They grow old. They get sick.
Even the big countries. America has been sick for a long time.
How did you decide on this particular approach / method, and what effect do you hope it has on readers?
MJS: Oh, it was entirely by accident. I tend to write and edit as I go so the visual aspects of the text are as important as the scene, setting, and characters involved. The book started out in a standard prose format. I’d write a page or so and then go back and reread. Typically, I change, at most, phrases that clearly needed touching-up in order to read and generally flow better from line to line. There is the occasional scrapping of an entire section, page, chapter, whatever, if a better approach is identified, but with The Sky Conducting, I kept gutting every paragraph, leaving only the lines stacked one after the other. At first I fought against this by continuing to write in standard prose format only to, yet again, end up editing the text into a similar line-stacking form. I can’t remember how long it took for me to just give up and start writing in the line-stacking fashion but when I did, everything else – the small groupings that results of pushing certain lines together for betting cognition, the Breathing Manner, the use of the house logo – fell into place quite naturally. I’m hoping the structural format helps facilitate an accessible momentum for the reader. Bit by bit, as long as the reader is entertained and interested by the lines, the sparseness and condensed groupings should act like gears on a bike, aiding the reader as they ride up and down each incline and decline of the narrative. This is, of course, only what I hope to be the case and that the effect on the reader is at least partly achieved.
MB: Alongside ‘America’, the sky itself plays an integral role in the novel, even though it is restrained in its contact within the narrative:
The daughter looks up to the sky. She can’t see the sky.
The sky disappears and is replaced with a sheet of dark concealing hate.
What does the sky mean to you, and what does it mean to the characters who populate The Sky Conducting?
MJS: People look up to the sky and project what they want to see onto the sky’s clouds. It’s something revelatory when we want it to be; when we have no reason to slow down and crane our necks up for a look, it’s just a sky, easy to devalue, easy to forget, something without any meaning in our lives. I feel like the sky functions well as a meditative device. For the nuclear family, the sky might show them the way, but they seldom give it much thought. There doesn’t seem to be a reason to look up when everything is looking down. It’s something so common it’s treated as an afterthought. Thusly, the sky is the exemplification of everything important and integral that we take for granted – and it’s right there, hiding absolutely nothing; it just so happens that the characters in The Sky Conducting consume themselves with turmoil so much that they haven’t even the thought to slow down, look around, and appreciate what they still have until after-the-fact, when it’s long gone.
MB: Nick Antosca, author of Fires, Midnight Picnic, and The Obese, says in his blurb that The Sky Conducting “marks a confident new direction in [your] work.” Can you talk with us about this new direction – where have you been and where are you headed?
MJS: It used to be that my output was too burdened and bothered by semiotics and the linguistic nature of the English language. Hmm, yeah, my earlier stuff was all about being lost in the words with little to nothing but philosophical quandaries to act as buoys for the reader. Not that my earlier novels are easy reads at all. Honestly, I wouldn’t be able to go back and read any of it.
I went into The Sky Conducting intent on abolishing my linguistic-heavy prose of the past for a truer narrative. I can’t say I was completely successful but at least there was a true beginning, middle, and end with something happening. In my other work, it never seemed like anything was happening. That being said, I’ve become more captivated with the mundane turned on-edge. I love the surrealistic and absurdist narrative mentalities of taking something relatable – be it a setting, situation, concept, or character – and warping the norm so that everything that was suddenly isn’t and the reader can’t help but relish in the mystery while still being able to believe the absurd as something possible. Being able to toy with the surreal while still making it somehow, even distantly, possible is a direction I am compelled to take in the present and near future.
It seems I’m always working on something, or at least telling myself that I am. I can’t help it. If I’m not working on something, I feel like I’m falling apart. If I don’t write every day, I feel like I’m falling to ruin. I can’t help but analyze and edit and analyze and edit and write, and analyze… always about teasing out new ideas, putting more words to the page, and burning whole manuscripts until I have pieces that feel like they are capable of holding the reader’s attention and giving the reader an interesting and entertaining experience.
MB: Lastly, while some authors would prefer to be as far away from the physical design responsibilities as possible, deferring to the press and its staff for those elements, you took on both the interior layout and the cover design for this novel. Is this usual for your work, and how do you separate your design self from your authorship (or is that even necessary)?
MJS: Hmm. I think it’s just because I personally can’t get comfortable enough with an idea until I’ve selected a suitable font, structure, and visual look to accompany the project. The more I think about it, the more I’m beginning to believe that it’s an irrational need to have. I shouldn’t need to typeset everything as I write; I shouldn’t need to have cover pages/front matter, and various images to look at just to start writing… but I do. It’s not a conscious choice that’s for sure. Even when I’m working on cover designs for other friends/authors, I can’t help but read whole chapters of their work until I get a “mood” or “emotional impression” from which I use as material for the resulting design. It’s irrational, yeah, but, I think the design part helps give me an escape from the writing part if and when I hit a problem or challenge that needs a little bit of time and distance to grasp. Throwing the prose into Photoshop, InDesign or Illustrator to slice-and-dice, increase font, boldness, transparency, is different enough so that when I go back to the dreaded Word document with its obnoxious blinking cursor, I have a little bit of a fresher take on the problem. There’s really no way to separate my design-self from my author-self. I’m not sure I can have one and not the other without losing both.
The Sky Conducting is flat out a good book. Don’t let the apocalyptic theme throw you – this isn’t like all of those other novels. This is a vibrant, personal story, and it is as fantastic as it is brutal. Get yourself a copy of The Sky Conducting here, & read more from / about Michael J. Seidlinger here.
Posted By jatyler / 4th June 2012
Amid AWP Chicago, some of the loudest buzz was from the Rose Metal Press table, with much of the clamor centered around I Take Back the Sponge Cake, a book described as “A Lyrical Choose-Your-Own-Adventure” and lauded for its full-color production yet reasonable price-tag. Of course we had to get our hands on a copy, and now, having fully ingested this tremendous sponge cake, we need to know more about how it happened, where it came from, and as luck would have it, behind this book are two generous authors willing to talk with us about it.
MB: As you write in the preface ‘The Making of I Take Back the Sponge Cake’, this collaboration was born out of a lucky convergence between two strangers at the Vermont Studio Center, both attending for one-year artist-staff residencies, but was it ‘love at first sight’, or did it take a bit more time to develop this newfound friendship into a working artistic relationship?
LE & SN: We definitely felt drawn to each other’s work right away, sensing an affinity in our images and styles in the different media, even sense of humor (which is important!). We both felt from the start a good potential for collaboration between us. But it was a bit of a slow build-up to get to the “relationship” part—the actual working together, determining how best to approach the project, and figuring out not only how to be creative together but also how to make decisions together and how to trust to bring the project to fruition. This also coincided with getting to know each other more as friends through our year in Vermont, and exploring our own individual practices as artists—the development of our collaboration seemed a natural part of this progression.
The relationship analogy does seem especially fitting for collaboration: starting with an “art crush” and liking each other as people—but also the willingness to give the time and effort needed to see if this can really go somewhere! Finding someone who has a compatible communication style, with a strong artistic vision who is also willing to let go and negotiate through the collaborative process, is also important—we feel like we really lucked out with each other!
MB: Also in that opening explanatory note we learn that the book didn’t really feel fully formed until you decided to implement the choose-your-own-adventure approach, bringing, as you call it, “the third catalyzing element” of the reader into play. Can you talk with us a little about how important the reader’s interaction with the text and images are for a book like I Take Back the Sponge Cake?
LE & SN: It was helpful for us to add an element of interactivity and play into the project through the choose-your-own-adventure structure—we hoped it would enhance the reader’s engagement with the work and make it more fun to read, but it also made it more fun for us too when putting it together. Read a poetry and art book, or go on an adventure? We wanted to choose both! And we feel like most of our readers will too.
We both share a great fondness for the Choose Your Own Adventure books we read as kids—it felt so exciting to decide your own way and to take an active role in how your reading experience would unfold. We wanted to bring that enjoyment into our collaboration. Plus what you see and read next means more when you have made the conscious choice to get there. When we do live readings from this book, we have the audience choose what we’ll read next by majority vote. You can feel the excitement and attention build as we make our way through the book together, aware of the possibilities and creating a particular trajectory—we hope something similar happens when people read on their own as well.
So much of our individual work has to do with our subjective experiences in this strange world. With the Choose-Your-Own-Adventure format we could allow the reader to construct their own subjective experience by journeying through the book. Thinking of the project in terms of a journey, in terms of various journeys, was exciting: at each juncture what turn would they take? And what did we want to place ahead of them for them to discover next? It felt like we were creating an imaginary landscape for them to explore.
MB: And while some may mistakenly view I Take Back the Sponge Cake as a collection of poetry with accompanying illustrations, you make it abundantly clear that the images are in conversation with the text, and vice versa. Can you tell us a bit more about that process, about making art or texts that are in dialogue with one another rather than created as stand-alone entities?
LE & SN: Some collaborations between writers and visual artists have a more linear, and distanced, process—either the writing or the visual art is created first by one person, and then that work is used to inspire the other person and his/her medium. (Often with the words coming first, and the artwork created second as illustration.) But in our case, the collaborative process focused on immersion and conversation. It came more from finding where our existing work overlapped, bringing together those pieces that already seemed to share a world, and then generating more written work (collaboratively and individually) from inside that particular space.
It helped that the body of work we focused on from Loren’s art was her collection of individual drawings on pieces of 4” x 6” paper—about the same physical size as a short lyric poem. So as we began laying drawings and poems down side by side to determine the most interesting conversations and pairings, they visually seemed of the same world too, living in the same dimension, with similar proportions. For the poems we wrote together, we would usually write in Loren’s studio with all of her drawings pinned in a swarm on the wall beside us—allowing it to influence us, but not basing our writing on any one particular piece. And sometimes Sierra would take a group of Loren’s drawings to her studio (which was right next door), and use that batch as inspiration for a new poem.
Once we had generated a fair amount of poems, we came together to decide which image and poem pairing created the most interesting affinity and dialogue—and when the pairing felt right to both of us, we knew we had our answer. We followed the same process for mapping the trajectories: determining which homophone pair belonged with which page spread, and how each word felt to determine where it would lead next in the book. When we had differing ideas, we would discuss our views, and the dialogue between the work on the page reflects in part the dialogue between us—not as a record of debate, but more as an alignment of intuition.
MB: And even as much as I Take Back the Sponge Cake is a unified text by two authors, it contains numerous texts and images that allude to or focus on the idea of separation or the struggle for individual identity. For instance, the poem ‘Pseudomorph’:
Releasing a false body from my body
my shadow emerges and I am beside myself.
I am all startle and
while she is all desire
a body of ink in water–
Or the image of ‘Jackpot Laundry Machine’:How important is separation and individual identity in terms of art and poetry, in terms of making a book like I Take Back the Sponge Cake?
LE & SN: We weren’t thinking about these themes overtly as we collaborated, but it makes sense that they would emerge in both the writing and artwork, and how those two elements came together. The human desire to connect with others is a strong motivational force (for seeking love, for making art), as well as the desire to understand oneself and to create, which requires some separation to do the work, even loneliness or isolation. These two desires can help each other and deepen the experience of the other, but they also sometimes work in opposition.
Both of our individual studios practices often entail a good deal of time spent alone. This project required that we move beyond our individual practices without eclipsing them. Our separateness is just as important as our synthesis.
MB: Lastly, the choose-your-own-adventure structure of this is genius, and beautifully produced, but even with these directions:
If you become lost, or would like to return somewhere that you have already been, please refer to the map on page 52.
and the corresponding ‘Adventure Map’, is there any level of concern that readers might end up missing a poem or image by never taking a path that leads there? Or is that part of what I Take Back the Sponge Cake is about – finding your own way as a reader and then rifling back through the worn and unworn paths alike, seeking out each portion of the book as a whole, trying to locate each and every moment?
LE & SN: We hope people enjoy the book however they decide to interact with it—choosing (and re-choosing) their way through trajectories until they’ve explored all (or most) of them—following several adventures through, and then skipping around (or using the map) to see what possibilities they’ve missed—even reading the book straight through without making any choices. The active choice of the reader is an important part of the experience—in creating this choose-your-own-adventure structure, we trust that each reader will move through the work in the way that is most interesting and meaningful to them. And that makes it exciting for us too!
I Take Back the Sponge Cake is a gorgeous book, one that offers amazing poetry and art while also saying so much about the possibilities of collaboration, and the fact that Rose Metal Press took on a project such as this and produced it as it deserved – in full-color and with beautiful stock – reminds us that so much brilliant goodness is on the horizon of our indie press landscape. Start your own Rose Metal Press adventure by picking up a copy of I Take Back the Sponge Cake here, & read more from / about Loren Erdrich and Sierra Nelson here.
Posted By jatyler / 21st May 2012
Oak Ridge is the third chapbook from Turtleneck Press, a tiny indie publisher that I was admittedly unfamiliar with until they released this title by Adam Moorad, but now they are on my radar, and I will read more from them soon. But in the meantime, we get the pleasure of asking Adam Moorad a few questions about his seedy little Oak Ridge, a vignette structured story of brutal trailer living and the mess that some of us make of ourselves, a chapbook that delightfully disgusted me.
MB: I say that Oak Ridge disgusted me, but what I really mean is that the narrative itself is so painful to bear at times, with your characters sleeping in trash, ailing and without support, sort of torturing themselves by how they live. Where do these characters come from? And do they want to live this way, are they content in this life?
AM: These characters are primitives. They don’t know their lives are disgusting. The trash, the illness, these things are acceptable in their eyes for no explicable reason. They are satisfied with being unsatisfied. Perhaps this is the story’s most disgusting element. How could anyone willing submit to this life? It’s horrible and ugly and painful and these characters find it attractive and comforting. We can’t understand it. They’re content and it horrifies us.
MB: Another reason that Oak Ridge moved me so much was the way in which you constantly infuse serene and often beautiful scenes of nature with the vicious narrative:
The child wanders through the woods at night, setting booby traps. A mall of trees stretches upward, branches bending like the ribs of a carcass. The child crawls into a bed of leaves. Makes a muted moan. Wets itself for warmth. Palate cleft. Hands like Michigan.
How much crafting and editing did it take to so constantly and consisting mesh nature with this suffering and elements of revulsion?
AM: I wanted to experience how these people might view their world. This world happens to be a revulsive one, but one where they find beauty and comfort. A sick child finds itself in the hollow of a ribcage and it’s happy to suffer in the serenity it provides. Nothing more. These images were realized over several months. Oak Ridge was many things before it was anything though it was always about this family.
MB: There is also a seemingly conscious effort to make each sentence direct, definitive:
He is drunk with his hands on a lure. The pole springs forward and a line flies into the stream. The bloodhound watches him waiting. The butterscotch current takes the bobber away, film spiraling around it like acrylic paint.
Is this typical of your style, or is this an approach honed specifically for Oak Ridge?
AM: I feel like writing is a constant process of becoming less and less uptight. You get better at it as you get older. The desire grows to better evoke some kind of a reaction in someone else, physical or otherwise. Style is a byproduct. When you deal with this sort of subject matter, the language should work like a blunt object. Yeah – it’s fucked up stuff. Feel it. Bleed with these people. It will feel good.
MB: As we mentioned in the opening to this interview, Turtleneck Press is a publisher we just recently discovered. How did your manuscript end up in their hands, and what was the editorial and production process like for Oak Ridge?
AM: I like new projects. If I see someone trying to do something that I like and think is important I want to be a part of it. Presses come and go. Some construct pretty websites but never publish anything. By the time I came across Turtleneck Press, they had already released a few chapbooks in what seemed like no time at all. This drive immediately made me want to work with them. Fortunately the manuscript developed a structure that I felt lent itself to the chapbook form so submitted it. The editorial process was nothing more than Brian Warfield emailing me to clarify and rectify my typos (of which there were plenty) in the politest way possible while he quietly when about promoting this book. For that I am grateful.
MB: Oak Ridge also makes me want to read more of your work. Are there any plans to extend this chapbook into a full-length manuscript? Or do you have other book projects you are already in the midst of?
AM: Oak Ridge is one story from a collection I’ve been working on for a year or so. They’re unrelated tales all told in the same strange vein. Some are already published. Some aren’t. Some are still evolving and some might not even exist yet. I’d like to give this collection to the world someday. It’ll happen if it happens.
No joke, when I turned the last page of Oak Ridge, I immediately went back to the beginning and started again. This is how much I enjoyed Adam Moorad’s chapbook, and how quickly I wanted to take his language back in. Do the same, order up, and see what it is that invigorates me in such a fierce way. Buy a copy of Oak Ridge here, & read more from / about Adam Moorad here.
Posted By jatyler / 7th May 2012
I’d never read anything from Ahsahta Press before, but fate sent me a copy of Janaka Stucky’s The World Will Deny It For You, winner of the first Ahsahta Press Chapbook Award judged by Cathy Wagner, and now I know to lookout for their future titles. I’ve also now learned that Janaka Stucky is, beyond being the badass conductor of poetic mayhem behind Black Ocean, a damn fine poet himself, creating in The World Will Deny It For You a tightly wound collection of poems that use minimalistic style to create wide-open moments of great weight. And Stucky too, like all wonderful writers I meet, is willing to be interrogated about this new book, and kindly indulged us here.
MB: Talk to us a little about the final lead-up to your Ahsahta Press contest submission – how long was this manuscript in the drafting stages and what final editorial work did you do before submitting?
JS: Well, I’m a little abashed to say that the manuscript as a whole was assembled in a matter of days. I don’t usually submit to contests with reading fees, and in fact this was the first one I did submit to in about 8 years. I found out about the contest at the last minute and although I didn’t know Cathy Wagner personally, I knew her work—and thought she might like mine. So the manuscript was assembled somewhat frantically over a 72-hour period while I was visiting with the poet, Adrianne Mathiowetz, in Minneapolis. She really helped give an objective eye toward decisions on inclusion, and helped me organize the work. Even an editor needs an editor, and I don’t know if I would have pulled this manuscript off without her help.
MB: Once The World Will Deny It For You was announced as the winner, was there still the usual editorial process with the press editors? How different is the published version from the original manuscript you submitted?
JS: I’d say the versions are very similar. Janet Holmes, who is the lifeblood of Ahsahta, assembled some editorial suggestions—a sort of aggregate of ideas from herself, Cathy Wagner, and other editorial staff members. I pushed back on a few but also saw the wisdom in them. Ultimately, the difference is: a few line edits, one poem cut, and one poem moved to a different spot in the book.
MB: One of the key components of The World Will Deny It For You seems to be the building of contrast between light and dark, for example:
from ‘You Are Invisible. Go Visible.’:
Inside the mouth of the flower remains / The second eyelid / True darkness / Alien light / Resurrecting us
or the poem that follows it:
from ‘The Heart Will Be Destroyed to Give Place to the Light Which It Might Have Contained’:
Nothing cannot pass / Through me the mask / I wear is a pyramid of fire / Fierce geometry of light / A cloud and its shadow / The hesitation of a lightning bolt
Where does the sharp contrast between these two elements come from in your writing process, and what does it mean in your poetry (assuming that it carries some sort of philosophical weight)?
JS: Well, I should begin by saying that I wasn’t even really aware of that theme until you mentioned it—but now it’s so obvious to me! So I can’t claim a conscious philosophical weight, but I know where it comes from now that I’m aware of it… First, I think it comes from the psychological place this manuscript was written in. It’s sort of a sequel to my 2009 chapbook, Your Name Is the Only Freedom, which was a very dark book that was written in a very dark period of my life. This new book is about recovering from that—not an annihilation of darkness, but a creation of light within that darkness, and the cohabitation of the two. Also, interestingly, I think this contrast comes from my writing process itself—which involves a kind of somatic ritual to induce the trance state in which these poems occur. I write at night, with all the lights off in the house except for two votive candles providing just enough light to see what I’m writing. There are other elements to the ritual, but perhaps this one particularly informs the contrast you mentioned.
MB: It seems that all poets are chasing someone or something in their poetry. In The World Will Deny It For You, you open with:
from ‘Everyone Thinks I’m Ancient But I’m Only Seven’:
My maps are useless and invisible; now and then a tentacle / reaches up from the darkness and points to the places you are not. I / remember everything about you but when I awake there is only your hair / in my fists and the journey ahead. When my small boat finally arrives, the / angel in your place will say that I am too late—you are long gone.
Who or what is your poetry chasing in The World Will Deny It For You?
JS: Most of these poems are a direct address to “you,” so I might say that these poems are chasing the Other. For the most part that’s true, but more than chasing the Other they’re about learning to love the Other despite constant imminent loss. The truth is, we will lose everyone we love—there are no exceptions. There is a kind of perfection to that absolute loss that is very painful to grasp, but once it’s embraced it’s entirely liberating. That’s what this book is documenting; the pursuit of that perfect state of acceptance.
MB: As always with editors / publishers who are also writers, I wonder about the effect that publishing has on their work. How does your role at Black Ocean affect your writing? Does the style of another poet ever infect you? Do the editorial skills you’ve acquired immediately translate to better editing of your own work?
JS: Sadly, the brilliance of the writers I publish doesn’t seem to infect me. It does inspire me though, by showing me what’s possible. I like to publish books I wish I had written, in one way or another. I definitely think being a poet makes me a better editor, and so I suppose the same is true vice versa. It gives me perspective and empathy, and those are always good qualities to have.
MB: And now that The World Will Deny It For You is out in the world, what are you working on, what is the next project in your queue?
JS: I have several projects in queue. I’m collaborating with the artist who did the cover of one of our new books, Butcher’s Tree, on a comic that’s semi-autobiographical about my seven years working as an undertaker. I’ve also got a full-length book of poems that’s getting close to completion… I’m taking my exploration of writing from trance states further while I attempt a long poem called The Saint Children. I have other wish list projects, but I’m trying to wait until these are complete before I begin them. In the meantime, I just came off a reading tour for The World Will Deny It For You, but I plan on more appearances around the country before the end of the year.
I much prefer the concrete world over philosophy – but Janaka Stucky manages to mesh philosophical moments with tangible landscapes in The World Will Deny It For You, creating an engrossing and profound poetry collection that has the weight of philosophy yet is entirely (and lustfully) readable. Pick up a copy of The World Will Deny It For You here, & read more from / about Janaka Stucky here.
Posted By jatyler / 23rd April 2012
I don’t know about you, but I always want to know what a new indie press is going to offer to this readerly world, what new lit stakes they will be touting with their first set of titles. SpringGun Press, run by Mark Rockswold and Erin Costello, has been a journal since 2009, but now has several print titles of both fiction and poetry, including Lily Ladewig’s The Silhouettes – a charming poetic collection that sings of bodies and fragments, and that we feel lucky to ask after for a bit here.
MB: As we mentioned above, SpringGun Press is relatively new to the print scene, so can you share with us a little about the process that The Silhouettes went through from selection to release with SpringGun?
LL: I submitted to SpringGun’s first open reading period in June. I had enjoyed reading their journal — they published a lot of writers who I really respected (Kate Greenstreet, Brian Foley, Nate Pritts, etc.) and the design is always smart and little cheeky. In September Erin and Mark emailed me to tell me they wanted to publish my book. I emailed back and forth with them and immediately felt comfortable working with them. I knew that we were on the same page in terms of what we wanted for the book and we worked together on reshaping the manuscript. I think it’s natural to be a little nervous about how a book will turn out when working with a new press, but for the most part I was really excited that we would be embarking on this together. It was a very collaborative process.
Something that was also really appealing about SpringGun is that all of their covers are created by artists in direct response to the book. Erin was assigned to my book and she’s a really talented graphic designer. She had spent a lot of time with the poems and also had me fill out a questionnaire asking about my thoughts on the aesthetics of the cover. I knew I didn’t want it to be a typical side-profile portrait, but I wanted something that alluded to and deconstructed the traditional silhouette. She sent me six options, all of which were great, and we went back and forth between two, ultimately deciding on the current cover. I am incredibly happy with how it turned out — Erin’s cover design is exactly what I had envisioned, and Mark’s layout really highlights the poems. I’m super proud to be one of their first authors, along with Adam Peterson, Joe Hall, and Chad Hardy.
MB: Moving into the collection itself, the ‘body’ is heavily invoked throughout The Silhouettes. For instance, ‘I Put a Body On’:
Like a clever bride
key close at hand,
I put honey on my body.
Or, in ‘Husbands & Other Seasons’:
I’ve always thought weekends were the worst.
What to do
with myself. With my hands
at the gallery opening.
Can you talk to us about where this focus on the body or body parts comes from and how it features in your writing process?
LL: I think my preoccupation with the body partly stems from being a dancer for most my adolescence. From the age of three to sixteen I took ballet classes and I still love going to dance performances, especially contemporary troupes like Mark Morris, Shen Wei Dance Arts, and Merce Cunningham. Wim Wenders 3-D film documentary on the choreographer Pina Bausch was the most incredible and inspiring movie that I saw this past year!
In college I was a member of the Tufts mime troupe, which was an amazing creative experience because we were able to evoke stories and emotions for the audience without the use of words, props, sets, or costumes. I have always been interested in using body movement as a form of communication; gesture (both physically and linguistically) is a means of storytelling that can blur the line between literal and figurative interpretation.
Similarly, around the time I started writing the poems that are in this book, I received my certification to teach yoga. This posed a different challenge because I was now called upon to instruct students on how to move through verbal cues: ‘Inhale the right leg up and back, exhale and draw the knee to the chest, place the right foot between the hands and lift your arms overhead, open the heart and spread the fingers…’ In a sense it was the opposite of the performances I’d done in the past. I had to find new ways of articulating body movement through language, which was both fascinating and surprisingly complicated.
Finally, bodies are sexy and they are at the center of all of my love poems.
MB: There is also a second person ‘you’ addressed throughout the poems in this book. Who is this person and where does he/she manifest from?
LL: Every poem in this collection was written with a specific ‘you’ in mind. For the most part they were written to people I have been involved with romantically, but in some cases these poems were also written to friends. For example, the last poem in the book, ‘Apologia’, I started to write to Anne Cecelia Holmes who was subletting my bedroom for the summer. I actually began writing it as though I was giving her instructions and warnings about living in my house (and a lot of it was true, like the skunks and the arsonist who had terrorized the neighborhood the year before) but then, halfway through, the poem took on a life of its own and it turned into a kind of spooky ghost story. I surprised myself with it.
Saying this makes me feel a little like a magician giving away her tricks. I hope this doesn’t ruin any mystery for readers but that’s the truth of it. I encourage people to consider the ‘you’ to as consistent person, or to imagine that I’m addressing them directly throughout.
MB: Both the ‘Shadow Box’ and the ‘On Silhouettes’ pieces are threaded throughout The Silhouettes, so I’m curious if you view this book as a collection of poetry or as a poetic narrative, meant to be read altogether as well as separately?
LL: That’s a really great question. This book began as my MFA thesis, and the UMass program requires everyone to write a brief introduction for our defense. I wrote mine as a treatise on ‘silhouette’, giving a history of the word (it derives from the name of an 18th century financial minister in France, Étienne de Silhouette), and discussing how shadows and outlines relate to fashion and my thoughts on poetry. The ‘On Silhouettes’ poems stem from this essay and function as a kind of thesis for the book.
Originally the ‘Shadow Box’ poems were grouped all together and I considered them to be one long poem. I wrote nine of them in the span of a couple of days in the spring of 2009. Leigh Stein asked me if I would participate in one of her Poets & Puppets reading so I thought it was be fun to build a little shadow puppet theater to accompany the poems. A couple of friends who come to the reading encouraged me to write more, and I wrote another seven over the course of a week in early summer 2011. When I began revising the book with Mark and Erin, they suggested breaking them apart and mixing them throughout the rest of the book. At first I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do this because I saw the ‘Shadow Boxes’ as a distinct story with a real beginning, middle, and end. However, in spreading them throughout the book, this had the wonderful effect of giving the entire book an overarching narrative.
MB: ‘silhouettes’ also carry in both the series ‘On Silhouettes’:
When Peter Pan’s shadow misbehaves
Wendy must sew it back onto his heels
with a needle and thread. As a fashion term
a silhouette has as much to do with the cut
and shape of a garment as it does with the body
and are embedded in others, like ‘Good Winter’:
I am none of these winters.
I am the silhouettes
of two girls
in black coats clicking
down a Roman side street.
To wrap up this interview, can you talk with us about the importance of the silhouette as a recurring image or theme throughout this book?
LL: It’s interesting that you point to ‘Good Winter’ because that was the first poem I wrote that had the word ‘silhouette’ in it and it’s from this poem that I pulled the title for the book. I love the glamour of fashion and the idea of building a persona through clothing and costume. I read a lot of fashion blogs, and one of my favorites is The Sartorialist, which features candid photographs of street fashion. A few years ago I came upon a beautiful shot of two women wearing dynamic black coats, black stockings, and black high heels. They looked like two walking shadows, mirroring each other.
On a more theoretical note, what makes a silhouette so appealing to me is its inherently ambiguous nature. I find art and poetry to be the most effective when it inhabits a shadowy space, when we are given hints of narrative or persona but our responses are not explicitly dictated. I am interested in the shape of a poem—not only the formation of black ink set against the white space of the page but also the effect that imagery and syntax has on the mind of the reader. I like poems that are evocative – when the poet gives us clues, or outlines, and then we have to fill in the blank with our own ideas and memories.
If you want to silhouette us here at Monkeybicycle, get yourself a copy of this book and read it on one of these springish days in a study of SpringGun Press’s evolution – a press we will no doubt have more interviews from very soon. In the meantime, get yourself a copy of The Silhouettes from SpringGun Press here, & read more from / about Lily Ladewig here.