Thursday, August 11, 2011

12 or 20 (small press) questions: Rachel Moritz on WinterRed Press

Rachel Moritz is the author of Night-Sea and The Winchester Monologues, both from New Michigan Press. Her work has been published or is recently forthcoming in Colorado Review, Denver Quarterly, Iowa Review, 26, TYPO, and VOLT. She lives in Minneapolis, where she publishes WinteRed Press and co-edits poetry for Konundrum Engine Literary Review.

WinteRed Press publishes poetry chaplets and broadsides. Learn more at

1 – When did WinteRed 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?

Sun Yung Shin and I began WinteRed Press in 2004. We were new to the poetry world and excited about the possibilities of small press publishing. The idea developed after we traveled to a conference on Lorine Neidecker in Madison, where we perused many gorgeous chapbooks at the amazing Woodland Pattern Book Center—the series published by a + press stands out in my memory, but there were many more.

Neither Sun Yung nor I had the skills, time or funding to publish full-length or letterpress chapbooks. After drinks and discussion with our friend, the poet Mark Nowak, we decided to model WinteRed after the series, Backwoods Broadsides, which was published out of Maine by Sylvester Pollet. We really loved this format: essentially an 8 ½ x 14” page folded into fourths, offering six pages for poetry in addition to a cover page. The ‘chaplet’ fit our desire to produce something beautiful that was also functional and affordable—for the reader and the publisher.

Our original goals haven’t changed; we still want to create beautiful, affordable and unique work. We pay particular attention to innovative female poets and writers of color.  We also aim to publish regionally (many, many amazing poets live in our neck of the woods, the Twin Cities) and nationally. However, we’ve definitely slowed down in production. In the first several years, I believe we published three-four chaplets annually, and then life started happening with a little more force for both of us. Things are slower these days; I aim for 1-2 chaplets a year. I’m less concerned with being part of a publishing “scene” and getting these widely distributed (at first we had a subscription option) and more interested in contacting writers whose work I love and making them a chaplet almost as a token of my adoration. Sun Yung is less involved at this point; I’m the primary publisher. I love the chaplet form, though I still wish I could produce them via letterpress for a more beautiful product.

2 – What first brought you to publishing?

As I mentioned, a love of poetry, a desire to be in touch with writers I admired, and to create something unique and one-of-a-kind. Chaplets are perfect for readings, easy to sell and distribute, and fun to have in your poetic repertoire.

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

Although this sounds like a stretch, I remember something I heard the Dalai Lama say recently, in response to the question: “What world issue would you solve if you had the power?” His response: “None of us can or should solve any issue individually; it takes all of us working together.” In some sense, the sheer range and options within the micropress world today model this sense of the many. I believe a press is responsible to love, passion and integrity. But I don’t believe that any one press needs to be concerned with standing for everything or with representing everyone; it’s one slice of a community, of aesthetic and political concerns, of geography, contacts and resources, etc. WinteRed is a very small part of a larger conversation.  That said, I do believe that male poets in the U.S. publish with more frequency and with far greater acknowledgement than female poets, so it’s a primary responsibility of mine to publish as many women as possible. I also value the work of poets with quieter/contemplative voices (less ironic, more serious)—I would mention Tiff Dressen or Eléna Rivera as examples.

4 – What do you see the journal doing that no one else is?

As far as I know, no one else is publishing in this particular format.

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

Getting issues to the poet. We send the chaplets to several poetry libraries and centers, but otherwise depend on the poet to distribute these personally.

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

Each chaplet is organized by the poet. In that respect, the product is theirs. I’m in control of some things: interior font remains the same, for instance, as does the back page. However, I’ve never felt the need for line edits. And everything (including title page) is run by the poet for approval before it goes to print.

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

At first we had a subscription list, but that dropped off after several years. I generally print 80 copies, give 15 to the poet, and then offer them a discount on additional copies. I send the chaplet to about five poetry libraries, and then the rest is up to the poet.

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?

Sun Yung Shin and I began the press; I’ve been running it solo for the last four years. However, I have a new co-conspirator, Gabrielle Civil, joining the ranks as guest editor this fall. Our plan is to have Gabrielle solicit and publish 1-2 chaplets a year, and I’ll do the same. We will each have independent control and choice over publishing, with collaboration around production and distribution.

Gabrielle is an amazing performance artist and poet who has spent a great deal of time in Mexico City and is familiar with the literary world there. She is going to begin our 2011 series with a new chaplet from New York-area poet Purvi Shah, but she plans to “guest edit” and annual Mexico City edition, which will likely be a Spanish-speaking (and writing) poet. We’d love to eventually have this function as a translation series with Spanish poems and their English translations side-by-side.

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

I’ve always been partial to the series poem, and perhaps this has been reinforced by WinteRed. Certainly, the poetry I publish has influenced me in terms of inspiration. I enjoy falling in love with new work; reading is generally what spurs me to write. So it’s an honor and a pleasure to publish work that I admire.

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?

Early on, Sun Yung and I both published our own chaplets. I can see how this might be troublesome, but I also think that in the world of micropress poetry, stakes are fairly low and issues of power are less heightened. A press creates a community of which the editors—usually working poets themselves—are a part. That’s the reality of the situation; so many readers of poetry are poets themselves. And frankly, we’re all doing this out-of-pocket. Most of us are publishing other writers to be in conversation of some kind; our own work can be part of that dialogue. Perhaps, for me, it’s a matter of style and quantity. I hate attending readings where the curators take up lots of space and time reading their own work! So, I wouldn’t publish another chaplet of mine. But I feel like self-publishing was part of “diving into the water,” so to speak, understanding how the form worked and what the product felt like. Sun Yung’s chaplet, Vestibulary, remains one of my all-time favorites.

11– How do you see WinteRed evolving?

Perhaps further exploration of form, publishing in new communities. As an example, Tiff Dressen’s, Because Icarus-Children, is printed as a vertical broadside, though you fold the chaplet horizontally to read the poem. Kate Greenstreet’s chaplet, Hermes is the god of the roads, works in a similar fashion. Translation and collaboration are interests of mine (and Gabrielle’s); I’d love to publish call-and-response poems or two chaplets that speak to each other. And maybe someday I’ll learn letterpress to make these more elegant, or find another printer with a wider stock of paper for more color options! Hopefully, Gabrielle’s involvement will offer new possibilities.

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?

I’m proud of the range of poets we’ve worked with, the way we’ve bridged our “local” Twin Cities community with voices from the East Coast, Bay Area or elsewhere. Our list varies in style and geographies; you can find the lyric and elegant work of GE Patterson next to John Colburn’s hilarious poem-as-play The Hallucinogists. Fanny Howe remains one of my most beloved poets; it was gratifying to publish her work, I Promise, in broadside form.

My biggest frustration would no doubt be with myself and my energy/time for publicity; in some other universe, I would be organizing readings, traveling to AWP, managing a growing subscription list, expanding WinteRed into a book press, and making these chaplets pay for themselves. Maybe someday.

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

As I mentioned earlier, the series was really modeled after Backwoods Broadsides, which ran an impressive, voluminous and under-recognized list in its lifetime. You can read more about BB here:

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

Chapbook presses and journals that I admire, either for style, design aesthetic or generosity of spirit: a + bend, Albion Books, Ugly Ducking Presse, We Are So Happy to Know Something, Cannibal Books, Proem Press, swerve, Fuori Editions, 26, TYPO, New Michigan Press, Etherdome Press. The latter, run by Elizabeth Robinson and Colleen Lookingbill, was an early inspiration. I’ve also rarely been disappointed by a chapbook published by the Poetry Society of America. This is just a beginning list: there are so many great presses out there, as your interview series demonstrates.

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

We don’t hold regular or even occasional readings. However, chaplets are designed for readings; you’ve just enjoyed the work you’ve heard and you have only one dollar in your pocket, so how can it be a mistake to take home a WinteRed!

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

WinteRed has a basic website,, which I update with each new edition.

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

We don’t take submissions, though poets often write to inquire. We simply don’t publish enough of these to have a formal submission process. The form lends itself best to solicitation; I generally send copies to the poets so they can think about a series that would work best for the length and style.

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

Tiff Dressen, Because Icarus-Children: A gorgeous, longer poem that leaves me ruminating on birth, embodiment and the relationship between language and spirit.
Kate Greenstreet, Hermes is the god of the roads: This poem is cryptic in the best way—a blend of narrative, dreamscape, dialogue, and image.

Juliet Patterson, Threnody: An elegant, beautiful series that borrows lines from George Oppen and presents a lament for the catastrophes of our environment.

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