Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Erín Moure, my beloved wager: Essays from a Writing Practice

Can my Alberta be a context for talking about relationality and the formation of sexual identity? What might that entail of place, be that place Alberta or anywhere? In fact, I think that place is probably more exactly situated in plants beside a river than in units that exist for administration. Though even there, wet-legged in the new-grown sedge, we are part of, and subject to, the administration of those grasses.

When I first read the two words “geography” and “sexuality” together, my thought was the body itself is a geography. Yet if we are geographies, we are not fixed ones: our internal velocities, and affects or relationships with other bodies, mean the boundaries of selfhood are always in process. One example of this is the geography of grief. When part of the body goes missing, the cortial map that held that part still endures, until other touches replace it. The phantom limb syndrome is explained by this. Also grief at the loss of a partner or a close friend to death or sudden separation. The process, the physical dis-orientation, the “un-Easting,” of grief, has even been observed in geese. (“A New Bird Flicker, or The Floor of a Great Sea, Or Stooking”)
After years of rumours comes the much-anticipated collection of essays by Montreal poet and translator (and current spring-term writer-in-residence at the University of Ottawa) Erín Moure, her my beloved wager: Essays from a Writing Practice (Edmonton AB: NeWest Press, 2009). Next in their magnificent “writer-as-critic” series, this collection sits alongside previous titles by George Bowering, Daphne Marlatt, Fred Wah, Di Brandt and Stan Dragland as well as forthcoming others by P.K. Page and Andrew Suknaski. What is compelling about this collection, in part, is how wide it moves through all of Moure’s practices, and how wide that practice is; writing poetry as critical thought on subjects such her own immediate work, translation, Chus Pato, feminism, lesbianism, Bronwen Wallace, threads of poems, reworking Pessoa and the idea of the citizen. Writing as practice, practice as an author constantly working to learn, and re-learn her craft from the ground.


And then I realized
any word written down could be biography
the next word would betray or would it


for there is always “perhaps not”
which makes – you must admit –
“perhaps” beautiful

that there could be a “not” and it
could enter

A grey sky in morning holds up
an indication yet of “some” harbours

she agrees
to harbour

Complex fractions can commit
or sway
reason’s septicemia

these membranes separate
along a mesial plane
are “in fact” micronic gestures

There is not much else. (A sentence at
the end of a letter from Guatemala,

“We too are affected every moment by oil’s
plunge.” (“Mornings on Winnett: Trust Meditations”)

It has been interesting to watch the shifts and flows, the ebbs of Moure’s writing and concerns over the years since her early poetry that came out of Vancouver’s “work poetry” of the 1980s alongside such as Phil Hall [see my essay referencing such here], Kate Braid and Tom Wayman, and a current practice that doesn’t seem as far away from the spirit of those earlier concerns of the individual (“work poetry” versus the “citizen”) as some might consider, despite any theoretical and structural divides. Moure is one of those rare poets that seems to have created her own school out of disperate, desperate and seemingly unrelated strands of other writing, other histories and other lines of thinking, becoming something entirely her own, and able to slip in and through comfortably, it seems, such divergent streams as Vancouver’s Kootenay School of Writing, the Toronto avant-garde and Vehicule Press’ Signal Editions. Moure’s poetry has always managed to ride those difficult lines balancing and exploring heart, thought, body, language, culture, geography and sex, questioning every sense of what writing is, can do and can even become, hidden under itself. As she writes, for example, in “Speaking the Unspeakable: Responding to Censorship”:
It is true that sex has imbued much of what I write. I don’t direct myself toward expression of sex, but it always risks coming out and often does, though mostly entwined with other concerns. I do write from a sexual and sexualized body, and it is from this body that I receive the world.

The view of the body most akin to mine is Spinoza’s, which I first encountered via Gilles Deleuze. Spinoza defines a body in two ways, which work in simultaneity: first, as composed of particles, an infinite number of particles in motion or at rest, thus defined not by forms but by velocities; second, as a capacity for affecting or being affected by other bodies, so that part of a body’s it-ness is its relationality. To me, there’s a clear marker here for community – broadly speaking, all other beings we are in contact with – as an indispensable part of our definition of who we are as individuals.

Divided into five sections built both thematically and somewhat chronologically, it ends with “stakes,” and title piece of the same, a piece originally written for a conference celebrating the work and careers (and retirements) of Fred Wah and Pauline Butling. What are the stakes? It almost doesn’t matter what the answer is, but for the fact that Moure continues to question it, as high sometimes as they are low, writing:
The stakes outside poetry, of course, are language, or rather, languages, for poetry can only take place in languages. (Not just in one language.) It occurs in what we have heard. It is (of) a multiplicity of hearings, not tautologies, but heterologies, and heterodoxies.

Its stakes inside itself are poetry wrestling with its own history, in its own idiom, and with the possible located there (which possible is, generally or as a rule, not available to us); they are the hinge (pli, seam) wrested from that wrestling, that history, and that idiom.

Moure’s is a practice that continually questions itself, aware at an extremely high, it seems, and capable level, and one that evolves as the author’s skills and thinking does, constantly working to rearrange and reassert, writing always its own alternate stance, and helping to make her one of our major authors.

Writing is always and forever a social practice. The varying discourses in a society either shore it up or challenge it. And discourse isn’t something we walk away from when we set down our pen. (“Breaking Boundaries: Writing as Social Practice, or Attentiveness”)

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

12 or 20 (small press) questions: Jenna Butler on Rubicon Press

Rubicon Press publishes extraordinary poetry from Canada and around the world. A small chapbook press founded in Norwich, England, Rubicon is now based out of Edmonton, Alberta. To date, the press has published over twenty-five collections of poetry from writers around the globe.

Jenna Butler is a poet, editor, and educator. She is the author of three short collections, plus a recently-released full collection from NeWest Press, Aphelion. She lives in Edmonton, where she teaches at MacEwan University and is the founding editor of Rubicon Press.

1 – When did Rubicon Press first start? How have your original goals as a publisher shifted since you started, if at all? And what have you learned through the process?

Rubicon started up in the spring of 2005 over in England. I created the press with Yvonne Blomer to publish a small anthology by the students on the MA in Poetry at the University of East Anglia, as there was no real venue available for the poets to present their work at the university. Our goals have since shifted/expanded to include publishing poetry chapbooks from writers around the world. (Our home has shifted, too; from the UK back home to Canada.)

We’ve learned that it takes a great deal of time to keep a small press going and that funding is pretty much non-existent, but that it is important to keep small venues for poetry, like Rubicon, going to provide platforms for writers at all stages in their careers.

2 – What first brought you to publishing?

A love of chapbooks’ sense of intimacy and a desire to work one-on-one with poets to create collections in which they would have a hand in the design/layout.

3 – What do you consider the role and responsibilities, if any, of small publishing?

At a time when funding for trade publishers continues to be cut and large publishing houses have to scale back, small publishing really needs to stay strong and keep venues open for both new and established writers to get their work out. Small-scale publishing is less dependent on outside funding; I won’t pretend it’s not difficult, but we can keep chugging when things get scanty. We need to keep putting in the time to get these little books and broadsheets out.

4 – What do you see your press doing that no one else is?

We’re one of the few chapbook presses (perhaps the only one?) whose mandate is to publish and promote extraordinary poetry from around the world. It’s a big, big goal—it’s much easier to market poets who are known within one’s own country. But there is some really great work out there and if we can help to connect poets from one country to the next, even in our small way, then it’s worth it.

5 – What do you see as the most effective way to get new publications out into the world?

These days, of course, digital media offers so many great opportunities for getting work out and available online. We do promote online, but we also encourage our authors to set up readings and launches in their home countries; to bring their books to the audiences who know and support them. Our writers come from all walks of life with varying access to technology, so we can’t take for granted the notion that they will all be blogging, tweeting, Facebooking, etc. about their new work. And there’s still something very compelling about attending a simple launch held by a poet whose work one admires.

6 – How involved an editor are you? Do you dig deep into line edits, or do you prefer more of a light touch?

It really depends on the collection. Ultimately, I look at it as a partnership deal. I’m working with a poet to best showcase his or her writing. I usually have a number of suggestions, comments, and queries, and I find that I can generally come to a positive consensus with the writers I work with. I’m not trying to change their work; my job is to tweak it where needed to tighten it up and make it as strong as possible on the page. Chapbooks can be a tough medium that way. There’s no room in thirty or fewer pages to hide weak poems.

7 – How do your books get distributed? What are your usual print runs?

Because we’re an international press, we distribute through absolutely any means possible. We have local bookstores in Edmonton and Victoria who kindly stock our chapbooks. We also attend book fairs whenever possible. We have an online store at our website, and we also distribute through the post and in person. Finally, we really encourage our authors to find connections of their own (local bookstores, etc. who will support them and bring in their books). We’ve even had Rubicon collections go to a book fair in Shanghai; pretty neat!

Our usual print runs are 200 copies. Yes, we do second printings (and more, when required). We have had some chapbooks sell in excess of 600 copies, which is pretty darn amazing for any poetry collection, let alone a little chapbook! It’s thrilling to tell an author that his or her chapbook has gone into its fourth printing.

8 – How many other people are involved with editing or production? Do you work with other editors, and if so, how effective do you find it? What are the benefits, drawbacks?

There are two of us involved in the chapbooks. Yvonne does some of the editing while balancing a busy writing life of her own and a wonderful young son. I do a large part of the editing and the communication with authors, the design, and the production. I work with a local printer who professionally prints the books after I’ve completed the designs in concert with their authors.

It’s neat to be able to work with another editor and bounce ideas off each other; it’s also great to be able to get a second opinion about manuscripts. The one particular challenge Yvonne and I face (aside from time...there’s never enough time!) is distance. She is in Victoria and I am in Edmonton. It makes sending proofs back and forth very time-consuming.

9 – How has being an editor/publisher changed the way you think about your own writing?

I think a great deal more about the cohesion of my work; how the poems work in series or as a complete manuscript. I find that I am more likely now to work on sets than just random poems. I’m always looking for that fit.

10 – How do you approach the idea of publishing your own writing? Some, such as Gary Geddes when he still ran Cormorant, refused such, yet various Coach House Press’ editors had titles during their tenures as editors for the press, including Victor Coleman and bpNichol. What do you think of the arguments for or against, or do you see the whole question as irrelevant?

I think there are compelling arguments on both sides. I know of a number of poet-editors who have put out collections with the presses they work for, often because they believe their work to be a good fit for the press, and they engage with another editor in the creation of their collections to gain the benefit of an impartial eye.

We’ve decided not to publish our own collections through Rubicon; we designed the press to publish other writers’ work and that’s what we’re comfortable producing. You’ll find a handful of our poems in only one Rubicon collection: our first, the anthology In the Laughter of Stones, printed in England in 2005. Even that was only at the insistence of our colleagues at the university, for whom we were editing the collection. Since that time, we’ve happily abstained and sought other venues outside Rubicon for our own work.

11 – How do you see the press evolving?

We’re moving a bit more in the direction of imported paper and eclectic design, although we still do some laser images on covers at the request of some of the poets we work with. Basically, we continue to expand our design and presentation as we come across a more and more diverse range of poets.

We do not, however, plan to expand into trade publishing; we get that question a lot and we’re quite clear about it. Chapbooks are where we’re at and what we love to work with.

12 – What, as a publisher, are you most proud of accomplishing? What do you think people have overlooked about your publications? What is your biggest frustration?

Personally, I’m thrilled to have been part of the publication of over twenty five collections of great poetry from around the world! That never ceases to amaze me. I’m proud that we’re able to run a little press that can stand on its own whether it receives outside funding or not.

It’s always a challenge to continue to promote and publish chapbooks by poets outside of Canada; it takes a great deal more work to get those collections out there and make people aware of them. Sometimes the poets are new writers, and this compounds the difficulty of promotion. Yes, it can be frustrating (chapbooks are such a niche market as it is), but it never ceases to be worth it.

13 – Who were your early publishing models when starting out?

I really loved the chapbooks put out by Greenboathouse back in the early 2000s and I continue to admire their work a great deal. (I don’t think Rubicon will be going the letterpress route, though.)

14 – How does Rubicon Press engage with your immediate literary community, and community at large? What journals or presses do you see your books in dialogue with? How important do you see those dialogues, those conversations?

We’ve taken part in readings, book fairs, and have spoken at schools and post-secondary institutions in both our home cities. When we publish a local author, whether in Victoria or Edmonton, we make sure to hold a launch to celebrate that writer’s accomplishment. For instance, Yvonne just hosted Wendy Donawa in Victoria for the launch of her new chapbook this winter. I spent a wonderful Sunday afternoon with Edmonton poet Wendy McGrath just this past weekend, sitting at a book-signing table at a gardening fair for the release of her new chapbook, preserving.

I’ve spent some time dialoguing with poet and publisher Trisia Eddy about her press, red nettle. Last year, she and I were both invited by poet Marita Dachsel to speak about small press publishing to a Faculty of Extension group from the University of Alberta. It was really reaffirming to talk about the similarities we share as small press publishers (lack of funding, fitting publishing in around our jobs, families, and lives, etc.) and the differences between our two presses.

15 – Do you hold regular or occasional readings or launches? How important do you see public readings and other events?

I’d say we hold occasional launches and readings, as many of the poets we publish live outside of Canada. But we do encourage those outside the country to hold launches in their hometowns; we advertise these launches on our site and otherwise use what connections we have to promote the events and the writers. And we hold launches/readings for local writers as often as possible.

We see public readings as a very important part of chapbook publishing. Small collections are so often tied to community, and it is wonderfully reaffirming for writers to get together with friends, family, and peers to celebrate their publications.

16 – How do you utilize the internet, if at all, to further your goals?

We have a website and online store, a Facebook page, and we are constantly on e-mail to stay in contact with, and to promote, our authors.

17 – Do you take submissions? If so, what aren’t you looking for?

We do take submissions (although right now, we only have two spaces left in our 2010/2011 lineup). We are a chapbook publisher, so don’t send us your life’s work in 400 pages. 30 pages is our limit, and the collection must work together cohesively. Please, no singsong rhyming verse.

18 – Tell me about three of your most recent titles, and why they’re special.

Interior Views, by Danielle Schaub (Haifa, Israel): Danielle’s first collection of poetry is paired with her evocative black and white photography. The images appear in negative exposure, so the textures are quite exquisite. This is the first collection of poetry and photography that Rubicon has issued.

Road Apples, by Glen Sorestad (Saskatoon, Saskatchewan): Glen’s dryly humorous travelogue takes the reader on a roadtrip through the States, delving into the history and stories of the people and places he and his wife encounter along the way. The poems work remarkably well in chapbook form, creating an engaging narrative roadmap.

preserving, by Wendy McGrath (Edmonton, Alberta): Wendy incorporates snippets of a 1950s-era brochure on canning and preserving into a long poem about of three generations of prairie women. It’s a beautiful play on the many meanings of “preserving” and the stories, secrets, and history kept within families. The design of the book itself incorporates a package of heirloom tomato seeds (a variety perfect for home canning).

Monday, March 29, 2010

The Lost Boys (a very short story)

For years I'd a theory about the film The Lost Boys (1987), that vehicle for Corey heart-throbs Haim and Feldman. Which was the one born in 1972, the same year as the death of modernism? It doesn’t matter, off to that last premiere in the sky. Forget the kick-ass soundtrack, forget the coloured lights, forget Canadian actor Kiefer Sutherland in leather, fangs and spiked hair, flying over the beach. It was the grandfather, played rugged, warm and soft-hearted by Bernard Hughes. The one who crashed through at the end, pushing two stakes that would kill the head vampire, turning the tables and saving the narrative. Did anyone catch it? The bottles of thick dark liquid, his “root beer” that no one allowed, his unexplained absence through most of the film, his collection of taxidermy? Even the fact that his daughter thought him dead at the offset, when their lost car arrived, the old man lying prone on day-lit porch. How else could you explain any of this, but for the fact he a vampire too? The two Coreys were just so much smokescreen. Even the grandfather’s last line, “all the damned vampires.” It wasn’t that the town had vampires at all, but citing foul excess. Was he one of the saved, or was he including himself?

Sunday, March 28, 2010

12 or 20 questions: with Margaret Sweatman

Margaret Sweatman is a playwright, poet, performer and novelist. Her plays have been produced by Prairie Theatre Exchange, Popular Theatre Alliance and the Guelph Spring Festival. She has performed with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony Orchestra and the National Academy Orchestra, as well as with her own Broken Songs Band. She teaches at the University of Winnipeg. Sweatman is the author of the novels Fox, Sam and Angie, and When Alice Lay Down with Peter, which won several awards including the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize and the McNally Robinson Book of the Year. Her recent novel, The Players, is published by Goose Lane Editions (Fall 2009).

1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?

My first book was a chapbook called Private Property, published thanks to Turnstone Press, who then published a novel, Fox. These experiences changed my life in ways I don't even want to tell, except to say that some of it was good and some of it was very painful, but the upshot was, I was evermore committed to a writing life. The novel that I'm working on now shares some of the same obsessions that inspired those first two publications. And I've continued to be in love with history. The greatest difference, I guess, is in a furthering of my interest in narrative, though maybe the real writing, the work and action of writing remains the same.

2 - How did you come to fiction first, as opposed to, say, poetry or non-fiction?

Like so many writers, I came to poetry first. I've shied away from pursuing poetry because I'd have to spend time on it that I'm unwilling to sacrifice from my need to write novels. Somehow I just need to write novels. And short stories when the novels drive me nuts. And plays and songs between drafts of novels.

3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?

The Players, published in the Fall 2009, took about ten years and maybe a dozen drafts, I don't know. I also don't know how long it's going to take me to find a strong draft of my current project. I've been thinking about this current novel-in-progress for maybe five years though I'm still on the first draft. The projects overlap. But I do find that I want to make many drafts -- this is something that developed with The Players. It's freeing, with the first draft, to know that I can always throw stuff away.

4 - Where does a poem or work of fiction usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?

Ideas come as gestures, and some gestures are novels while others are short stories or plays or whatever. Maybe it's merely ambition.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?

I perform quite often because I work with musicians. I always dread readings and musical performances, freak out, get bitchy, do the gig and then feel incredibly happy afterwards and drink a bit too much. Performance is certainly part of my creative process. I love working with actors and musicians, love writing for them. Right now I'm working, along with a wonderful vocal coach, with four non-actors who are learning English as a second language, creating a piece called "Babel." All I do is invite them to tell stories in a certain way and then we build a small performance piece from that. It makes me deeply happy.

6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?

That's a great question.
Um. Yes, I have theoretical concerns. I'm crazy for the tensions between characters' varying degrees of knowledge and delusion. This partly comes from an obsession with the dialogic action in narrative, the threads of discourse, the partial word that combines with others, or fractals that speak in differing voices and timbres and in various ways recombine to make a novel. And obviously, with historical fiction, the compulsion is to live vividly and actively in the past.

7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?

I don't know. I teach literature and creative writing, and organize readings as part of that. When it becomes saddening and irritating, when I hit a wall in this aspect of my work, I discover that I believe in it. I meet a lot of people in their twenties who need to write and to read, who absolutely need books and language and pens and all the paraphernalia of writing. The role of the writer is to be read. This is almost utopic these days: that writers would act on the metabolism of others, that writers would affect the blood flow between body and brain for an hour of a Canadian citizen's day.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?

I've had great editors, to whom I'm grateful. For example, I worked with Bethany Gibson on The Players. That novel was like a play in that it needed dramaturgy. Bethany is a rare event: an editor with a canny, brilliant understanding of narrative structure, of dynamics; an editor who can see a book's potential even in its awkward adolescence.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?

Watch your backswing.

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to fiction to plays)? What do you see as the appeal?

It's crucial. I need to change genres between drafts. Each new project brings its own problems and lessons that need to be learned somehow. So when I get a draft, I need to abandon it for a good while and work on something completely different, go back to school with a new piece, and then try to bring something new to the next draft.

11 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?

There are many interruptions and obligations. A typical day is often a battle to ignore many things that I have to do. Today, which happens to be a Sunday, was supposed to be a writing day, but I find I'm unwilling to enter the next scene. It became more useful to sweep the kitchen and do this correspondence. Today's discomfort might pay off tomorrow; Monday might work out. A lucky writing day is full, clear, long, with a lot of coffee and cookies.

12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?

The stalls are important. It's necessary to think and read, get moving physically, get the hell out of here. Often a "block" is a traffic jam of conflicting ideas.

13 - If there was a fire, what's the first thing you'd grab?

My family.

14 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?

Yes, all that, especially music and theatre. But books are the most important source for me.

15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?

Writers: so many of them. I've got a translation of the Tao Te Ching by Stephen Mitchell here with me now. And John Banville's The Sea. And Don Quixote is here. A lovely collection of poems, The Poet's Choice Columns, 1997-2000, assembled by Robert Hass. I return often to Mavis Gallant and to Robert Fitzgerald's translation of The Odyssey. Countless histories. among them at the moment: Snow Job: Canada, the United States and Vietnam (1954 to 1973) by Charles Taylor, and an odd, angry, powerful book called Why is Canada in Vietnam: The Truth about our Foreign Aid, by Claire Culhane.

16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?

Oh. Just always wanting to write.

17 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?

I hope that if I wasn't committed to writing that I'd have found something useful to do. But I'm probably hopeless. If I wasn't working at writing I'd be nuts.

18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?

Falling in love with the ideal hand that makes those funny squiggles on paper.

19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?

Loved Don DeLillo's Libra, which I read a few months ago. And loved Up in the Air -- yes, with George Clooney. That's a great script, it really is, I think. The wish fulfillment as tragedy.

20 - What are you currently working on?

A novel. Thank you for asking, rob.

12 or 20 questions (second series);

Saturday, March 27, 2010

new: the third issue of Stephen Collis' The Poetic Front is now on-line;

The Poetic Front

Vol 3 (2010)
Table of Contents
Reviews & Essays

Andrea Actis

New tactics in Poetic Activism: Reg Johanson's Escratches
Robert Budde

“The Lore of Four” is a “Copious Leaping”: Transnational Translation and the Visceral Vernacular, Oana Avasilichioaei and Erín Moure’s Expeditions of a Chimæra
Cris Costa

Three Reviews: Tyrone Williams, Lawrence Griffin, and Judith Goldman
Thom Donovan

Potential Form and Hank Lazer's Portions
Stephen Collis

Three Reviews
Susan M Schultz

“Inquiring into the symbolic dildo I strap on every day”: A Review of Rob Budde’s Declining America
Reg Johanson

“How many constants should there be?”: Rae Armantrout’s Quasi-Scientific Methodology
Robert Stanton

“...More Careful Zones and Strata”: Charles Olson’s Parallax Poetics in The Maximus Poems
Jason Starnes

Wound Response, Tacit Knowledge and Residual Reading: Dissecting Matrices of Information in J.H. Prynne’s Late-Modernist Poetry
Matthew Hall

Special Features

Hic Rhodus, Hic Salta!
Roger Farr

Postscript: Poetry and Anti-Politics
Roger Farr

The Barricades Project, the Life Long Poem, and the Politics of Form
Stephen Collis

Conditions of Poetic Production and Reception Part 4. “New Resistant Subjects (Bot to Bot)”
Rodrigo Toscano, Natalie Knight

Doing the Twist: Modern American poetry and vitalism
Thom Donovan

From Wit to Plunder in a Time of War
Gregory Betts

Becoming Unmoored: Rob Halpern's Disaster Suites
Richard Owens, Andrew Rippeon

Rob Halpern

ISSN: 1913-973x

Friday, March 26, 2010

12 or 20 (small press) questions: with Janet Vickers, Lipstick Press

As well as being a publisher, Janet Vickers' writes poems too, and her poems have appeared in sub-Terrain, Grain, The Antigonish Review, and in various anthologies in Canada and the UK. Her claim to fame is that she once stood behind Margaret Laurence in the Lakefield IGA and decided not to impose on her privacy by asking for an autograph.

1 – When did Lipstick first start? How have your original goals as a publisher shifted since you started, if at all? And what have you learned through the process?
Lipstick started as a publisher in July 2009 with Heidi Greco's A: The Amelia Poems. I didn't really have original goals other than to create beautiful chapbooks in content and appearance. Through the process I have learned that the poet has the talent to imagine how the finished book should look and feel. I've learned how valuable it is to tap into that vision. The poet gives birth and the publisher is the midwife. 

2 – What first brought you to publishing?
Lipstick first started as a self-publishing outlet in 2006 when I printed my chapbook You Were There and then in 2008 for Arcana.  I became aware that other writers whose work I really valued were not getting published very quickly.  Two percent, or less, of work being submitted to publishers, is getting out there. I didn't study publishing but I knew, as someone who writes poetry, that a need was not being met. So I began publishing.

3 – What do you consider the role and responsibilities, if any, of small publishing?
To strengthen and support the voices of Canadian poets, by making it available in affordable yet beautiful booklets.  

4 – What do you see your press doing that no one else is?
I don't know enough about the other presses to know, but I don't expect I am doing anything very different.

5 – What do you see as the most effective way to get new publications out into the world?
Readings. Small retail stores, including book stores are becoming extinct, but there is a hunger for community that includes a current literary existence. 

6 – How involved an editor are you? Do you dig deep into line edits, or do you prefer more of a light touch?
I dig deep but understand that my 'dig' is as subjective as any reader or writer, and always prefer a dialogue when it comes to editing. So far my authors have been very polished and their manuscripts have arrived almost camera ready.

7 – How do your books get distributed? What are your usual print runs?
My books are mostly distributed by the writer who already has an unofficial fan club, through a book launch if geography allows (I don't have a travel budget), and then I keep books in stock for requests via email and the internet. My print runs are 60 - 100 copies.

8 – How many other people are involved with editing or production? Do you work with other editors, and if so, how effective do you find it? What are the benefits, drawbacks?
I work with the author and the printing company, anyone who is willing to give advice, and my multiple selves. 

9 – How has being an editor/publisher changed the way you think about your own writing?
They are two different creatures. My own writing, when I get to it,  is a wild animal with its own imperious appetite that I can't reason with. 

10 – How do you approach the idea of publishing your own writing? Some, such as Gary Geddes when he still ran Cormorant, refused such, yet various Coach House Press’ editors had titles during their tenures as editors for the press, including Victor Coleman and bpNichol. What do you think of the arguments for or against, or do you see the whole question as irrelevant?
Since publishing other writers, Lipstick Press will not publish my own writing as long as I am publisher.  This might be because I am not interested in self-publishing any more.

11 – How do you see the press evolving?
Haven't been in the business long enough to know, but I sense that culture is drawing back from big towards community.  I think we realize how valuable literature is in terms of civil consciousness and we understand that while celebrity can be the end result of talent and brilliance, culture does not require fame and fortune to remain relevant. 

12 – What, as a publisher, are you most proud of accomplishing? What do you think people have overlooked about your publications? What is your biggest frustration?
Co-creating beautiful, relevant books, with talented writers. Affirming the worth of the poet.

13 – Who were your early publishing models when starting out?
Leaf Press perhaps - they create chapbooks and the publisher writes the nicest rejection letters.

14 – How does Lipstick engage with your immediate literary community, and community at large? What journals or presses do you see your books in dialogue with? How important do you see those dialogues, those conversations?
Well I have recently moved and I think I am very much in process now and have some hopes for the future. Mostly I have organized locally with other non-profits and small business. I have enjoyed inviting writers to literary salons in my home.

15 – Do you hold regular or occasional readings or launches? How important do you see public readings and other events?
This is something I want to do more of - they are the face to face profits of community.

16 – How do you utilize the internet, if at all, to further your goals?
I have a blog and website to get the message out.

17 – Do you take submissions? If so, what aren’t you looking for?
Lipstick Press publishes about three chapbooks a year.  I will be accepting submissions from June 1 until November 30.

18 – Tell me about three of your most recent titles, and why they’re special.
how it is I am not married / I want to live in the runcible spoon by rob mclennan - a collection of very personal reflections on the gap between nonsense and need.

Winter Gifts by Keith Wilkinson - a collection of poems on the "greatest gift of all", you know the one "the giver wants to keep".

Grief Blading Up by Elsie K. Neufeld - reveals loss and grief as they work through the seasons of birth, growth, death and re-birth of a garden.